The competition is turning out to be a mutually beneficial deal for the Chinese government and the Miss World organisers.

While the Communist regime is keen to present a modern face to the world, the organisers hope a successful edition of the show will help erase the bitter memories of last year's botch-up in Nigeria.

With an expected worldwide television audience of nearly 2.2 billion in 146 countries, Miss World gives Beijing a chance to showcase China abroad, a formula bound to win the country more tourists and investors.

"There are a lot of perfect things in traditional Chinese culture and we should unfold these before the eyes of the world. The pageant is something that can attract the eyes of the public," Li Daibiao, general secretary of the Miss China Pageant Committee, said.

For Miss World organisers, the event on Saturday is a chance for redemption after the 53-year-old pageant found itself at the centre of sectarian violence in Abuja last year.

"Last year was sad," organiser Julia Morley said of the riots that erupted in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, killing 220 people.

Nearly 100 beauty queens were preparing for the 52nd show when violence spread to the capital and forced a last minute evacuation to London.

Changing attitudes

In China, beauty contests have traditionally been seen as a symbol of bourgeois decadence, but attitudes are changing fast - both of the government and the people.

Last year's show had to be moved
to London after rioting in Nigeria

This year's event in the island city of Sanya is almost certain to be a success with the government putting its might behind the show.

The organisers are also on a larger "fact-finding mission" that could see more international pageants held in China.

"It may stay here next year, it's very likely. There is a lot we can do together," Morley said, adding that Chinese officials had first approached her about holding the event in Sanya.

The arrival of 110 Miss World hopefuls in China, three weeks ago, not only signalled an official change in attitude, but is also paving the way for other beauty titles which for years tried to persuade Beijing that pageants were innocuous.

All-round support

Even the All-China Women's Federation, a leading opponent of the event, felt hard pressed to dismiss the contest out of hand.

"We even don't know what kind of content the beauty competition will include, so we can't say we support it," said a director, Wang Naikun.

"We oppose any activity that uses women's body for commercial purposes... but what if we oppose it, then someone may tell us it has changed for something positive and it is part of the trend (in society)."

Plans are already afoot for an official Miss China competition next year. An official said the event would be for the "public good" and would be for non-profit.

"The Miss China title is a kind of honour, and the winner of Miss China is not expected to be the star of entertainment circles. That would be too superficial," Li Daibiao said.

Chinese officials are also attempting for the 2005 Miss Universe while the country's most fashion-conscious city, Shanghai, is aiming to host Miss International in 2004.