Eat your heart out, Pirelli: China recruits calendar girls

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THEY ARE dark-eyed, deadly and dressed to kill. And they are a sign of how far China's vast defence industry will go in search of profit.

The 1994 Beauties and Famous Guns calendar is the brainchild of Shi Zhijun at the official National Defence Industry Press. He told me that the calendar featured 'new and unique artistic ideas' to meet the demands of readers who were tired of old-fashioned designs.

Prominent among the new and artistic is Miss February, with chiffon veil, bikini top . . . and Soviet-made AK-74 assault rifle. Or take Miss August, in a strapless white satin creation, neatly accessorised by a French MAT49 9mm machine gun.

The Defence Press last produced a calendar in 1990 - a much more sombre affair, featuring photographs of scientific and defence products. But that was before the latest thrust of reforms, which made clear to China's work units that subsidies were a thing of the past and that they had to start making profits. And the calendar has certainly proved profitable.

Of 20,000 copies printed last month, 17,000 have already gone. Who is buying it? According to Cui Shiyi at the Defence Press: 'Young people, because they like beautiful girls and they like weapons.'

One Japanese company bought 30 copies to send back home. Asked if a British newspaper might publish some of the pictures, there was a sudden flurry of concern among the cadres. Were they worried, perhaps, that this was not an appropriate international image for the motherland? No, said Mr Cui: the problem was, what would our readers do if, having seen the calendar, they desperately wanted one themselves. How would they know where to buy it? With China's trade balance heading into the red this year, it only seems fair to note that Mr Shi can be reached at 23 Zizhuyuan Nanlu, Peking 100044, China.

(Photograph omitted)