Whether you view it as 'art', a bit of harmless fun or a rather sexist hangover from a bygone era, the annual Pirelli Calendar and its use of female models in its photography is something of an institution.

This year, echoing a broader trend in the automotive industry, the Pirelli calandar 'pays homage to China, with the presentation of its 2008 Calendar in Shanghai'.

The thirty-fifth edition of "The Cal", is the first ever made in Asia and is set entirely in Shanghai.

Pirelli says the twenty-three 'intense portraits' (two for each month; August has just one) recount the pomp of ancient China, with its splendor and the colours in which the Oriental myth of female beauty - perfection, purity, grace - is searched out.

"Very often I find Western people seem to go for the more cliché Chinese faces: long hair, slanted eyes. All that has changed I think. Many Chinese women are graceful; I think we have an inner grace that's more rare than you find in the West," said Maggie Cheung, the well-known Chinese actress and one of the models featured in this year's calendar.

Patrick Demarchelier, the portrait photographer said: "The casting was a fascinating mix between the West and the Orient: an interesting group of faces."

Shooting last April kept eleven models and actresses occupied for ten days of intense work that involved a troupe of more than 40 people, Pirelli said.

The official unveiling of the new calendar occurs just a few days after the opening of the second Pirelli tyre plant in the Shandong Province.