In search of the perfect QQ girl

Virtual money is challenging the real thing in China. As usual, the sex industry is partially to blame.

By Andrew Leonard
Published December 7, 2006 11:05PM (EST)

As if the poor People's Bank of China wasn't already under enough pressure! A blue-ribbon delegation of American bigwigs is on its way to China, and topic No. 1 on their list of grievances is the undervalued Chinese currency. Hank Paulson and company will be twisting every arm in reach to get the Chinese to loosen their control on the yuan, desperate to ward off rising sentiment back home in the U.S. for trade sanctions against China.

But now comes word from the Asia Times that the Chinese currency is under pressure from a domestic challenger from the online world -- the so-called "QQ coin" popular with users of the QQ instant messaging service offered by China's Tencent.

Li Chao, spokesman and director of the General Office of the People's Bank of China (PBOC), has expressed his concern in the Chinese media and announced that the central bank will draft regulations next year governing virtual transactions.

Public prosecutor Yang Tao issued this warning: "The QQ coin is challenging the status of the renminbi [yuan] as the only legitimate currency in China." In an article published recently in the Nanfang Daily, the prosecutor wrote that the central government would act to "limit the application of QQ coins" and assure that their use is restricted to the virtual world.

Introduced as a way to pay for such things as electronic greeting cards and modifications of your online avatar (gotta have the killer virtual Nikes, man) the virtual coins are easily transferable to anyone who uses the Tencent messaging service. But their popularity has spread far beyond Tencent -- they are now apparently the online currency of choice in China for gambling and porn.

Which brings us to the QQ girl, rumored to be a webcam-equipped instant messager who will engage in "private video chat" for the right QQ price.

Or not. A search on the term "QQ girl" (which I don't really recommend unless you want to stare directly into the seedy depths of iniquity concocted by expat seduction artist wannabes who congregate at bulletin board sites with names like "International Sex Guide" and "Shanghai Expat") indicates that any girl who uses the QQ service could conceivably be called a "QQ girl." So the term doesn't necessarily equate to "available online stripper/hooker/exhibitionist."

But let's not get bogged down in online sexual voyeurism! The Asian Times article is required reading for those who wonder where the online future is headed. Increasingly, all signs point to Asia, where more people are going online, and doing more things online than anywhere else. Sometime this year, China's total number of Internet users was supposed to have surpassed the United States. Well, no wonder, if there are QQ girls (and probably boys) lurking around every IM corner!

Could the popularity of QQ coins really be challenging the renminbi? Or is that a cover story for an imminent crackdown more likely aimed at online sinners (gambling and porn are officially extremely frowned upon in China)? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that if you want to experience the cutting edge of online culture, hie ye to the Middle Kingdom, and start mining for QQ gold.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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