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Here's news: They've all gone sex crazy in China.

China has been a constant news topic for some time. We've all read or heard about the economic boom and the problems with the reliability of food exported from China. We've become familiar with images of the appalling devastation of the landscape, thanks to Edward Burtynsky's photographs. We know about the smog in Beijing. We anticipate that China's attempt to handle the Olympics next year is going to be very, very interesting and fraught.

What we haven't been hearing about is the carnal and the erotic in contemporary China. A new documentary tonight enlightens us.

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China's Sexual Revolution (CBC, 9 p.m.) claims to be "the world's first glimpse" of, among other things, "the new free love generation" in China. It's a big claim, but it's the small details that matter in this interesting doc, a program that doesn't seem quite sure if it should be dead serious or lighthearted.

The documentary, written and directed by Josh Freed and former Globe and Mail Beijing correspondent Miro Cernetig, starts with footage of a nightclub, somewhere in China. We are told, "This is a new world of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." The overall theme is this: "The Chinese are rediscovering their libido and they're making up for lost time."

Soon, there is murky footage of what is described as a bordello, and then we get the message that the sexual revolution is actually a mess: There is a hidden problem, with prostitution increasing, creating a deadly HIV crisis.

There are many comparisons with Mao-era China. That's when, officially, carnal desire didn't exist. But, of course, it existed for Mao himself. Apparently he had an abiding lust for virginal girls and an endless supply of them, but nobody ever talks about that. Even today, one person interviewed for the doc declines to say anything about Mao's sex life, declaring that the conversation would be illegal.

We meet interesting characters and get revealing vignettes in the program. There is a certain Madame Chen, who runs a "Love Boutique" in Beijing, where, apparently, there are 5,000 such establishments. We also get to listen to Whispers, a popular sex-talk show on late-night radio. It's hosted by the elderly Madame Ru Rumein, who asserts that many Chinese men and women are naive about sex and relationships, and some are what is translated as "sexually illiterate."

We also meet Muzemei, a blogger who became notorious when she recorded her own love moans and shared them on the Internet. Also we're told about China's one-child policy and how that has meant tens of millions more men than women. For a lot of these men, the future is bleak. They are unlikely to find a female partner and start a family. Thus, prostitution is an ever-expanding business.

If anything, there is too much crammed into the hour. One vignette shows viewers a teenage girl who talks about "the beatings and arguments" that ensued when she admitted to her parents that she had had several boyfriends. That sort of remark begs greater depth.

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This is an area of China's culture that we know nothing about and it has political and social meaning that extends far beyond the lurid and the giggle-inducing commentary about Chinese men being completely ignorant of women's bodies. Instead of being an hour long, China's Sexual Revolution could have been a six-hour series about the deeply human and, to date, hidden side of a changing China.

Now, a writers strike update. If you think this is an inside-Hollywood issue that's unlikely to have an impact on you, you're wrong. The following shows have already shut down production: Desperate Housewives, The Office, Back to You, The New Adventures of Old Christine, 'Til Death, Rules of Engagement, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. In the case of Desperate Housewives, the producers acknowledge that already-complete episodes will air until early December. After that, no new episodes. The latest rumour is that both Letterman and Leno may return to the air in about two weeks with abbreviated shows. There would be a short monologue written by the host (in Leno's case, that's bad news) and then interviews with celebrities promoting movies. Why? Because revenue from movie advertising is a large part of the revenue generated by the late-night show. No new shows, fewer viewers and no new moolah. And this is about moolah for the broadcasters.

Check local listings.

Also airing tonight

Heart of a Poet (Bravo!, 8 p.m.) is all about Nova Scotia-born poet, playwright and novelist George Elliott Clarke. He is a substantial poet, both popular and critically acclaimed. And his astonishing novel George & Rue, about poverty, murder, revenge and racism, has given him a new profile in the United States. He's worth meeting here.

J.D.

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jdoyle@globeandmail.com

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