GUANGZHOU, CHINA — FOR China's leaders battling an invasion of Western liberalism, the vibrant southern port of Guangzhou is as good as enemy territory. Amid kaleidoscope lights and rock music, Cantonese youths at the ``Roller-Skating Disco'' swirl arm-in-arm around a broad hall.
``We're just having fun and relaxing. We're not worried like Beijing about liberalism,'' says factory worker Ouyang Huiquan, pushing off to rejoin his girlfriend.
As they have many times before, Guangzhou residents are resisting efforts by Beijing to turn them from their ``worldly ways.''
Beijing has ordered Guangzhou to eradicate ``bourgeois liberalism.'' But as with a similar nationwide campaign in 1987, the city has simply paid lip service to government wishes. Guangzhou's fast-buck credo, profuse banquets, plentiful prostitution, and other tokens of its free-wheeling nature persist.
The contrast between Guangzhou and Beijing is particularly ironic at the ``Disco-on-Wheel,'' a nightclub on Shamian Island. The island, a symbol of China's abuse under foreign imperialism, was built by the British and French in 1861.
The foreign office of the provincial government owns the disco, which opened soon after the June massacre of protesters in Beijing, just as the capital was beginning its effort to rally the country against ``foreign'' values.
The crowds at this disco and at many other nightclubs show how Guangzhou takes its cue from the nearby capitalist enclave of Hong Kong, rather than from Beijing.
``Rules and policies are made by men; they can be broken by men,'' says disco manager Qin Youpeng, explaining why his hot spot thrives in such a chilly political climate. Mr. Qin is an official at the Guangdong Province foreign office.
The local government has responded to Beijing's moralizing by joining its campaign against pornography. Like the national government, Guangdong keeps a well-publicized tally of licentious videotapes that it has crushed, lewd magazines it has turned into pulp, and smut traffickers under arrest.
Booksellers on East Garden Street - known locally as the ``source of yellow stuff'' - say that the city government has shut down four shops and fined several others for purveying porn.
Guangzhou has harshly dealt with pornography because the government has made carnality the excuse for its campaign against foreign influence, say Western diplomats on condition of anonymity.
Since it brutally suppressed protests for democratic rights in June, Beijing has tried to exploit the traditional prudery of Chinese by equating lewdness with liberty, the diplomats say.
``Through various channels, enemy forces abroad have disseminated on a massive scale reactionary, pornographic material,'' the party newspaper People's Daily said recently.
In a sign that Guangzhou is following the letter but not the spirit of Beijing's prudence, prostitutes by most accounts are more discreet but just as pervasive as before the crackdown. If the government has its way, however, their nights are numbered. Beijing this month ranked street-walkers as the No. 1 target among the ``six social blights.''
But Beijing has not purged leaders who were linked to former party leader Zhao Ziyang or his beleaguered market-oriented economic reforms. A former Guangdong official, Mr. Zhao was ousted by the party's Old Guard in June for allegedly backing the liberal student protesters.
Instead, Beijing has jostled Guangzhou officials with a credit squeeze. By withholding state loans, the leadership can disgrace provincial leaders who have financed heavily indebted companies, Western diplomats say.
Many companies short of cash have reduced wages by more than 30 percent, forcing workers to forgo expensive clubs like the disco, say numerous roller-skating dancers.
Yet such austerity will not necessarily goad Guangzhou officials into restraining their city's free-and-frantic lifestyle. Despite a new law barring the hiring of young women in bathhouses, hostesses in satin dresses still lure customers into the ``Blue Wave Bathhouse'' and other saunas.