The sex trade is booming in China, having benefited from the country's effective embrace of capitalism.
During the 1950s the government ran a terrorising campaign against prostitution, in effect eradicating the business in China's cities. China's Public Security Department says that there were 12,281 prostitution-related cases prosecuted in 1984. By 1995, in the five months from January to May the figure had exploded to 113,000, and the following year the government embarked on a crackdown known as the 'Intense Repression'.
Because sex workers are despised and have no legal protection as workers, they face many difficulties, including violence from clients, the police and pimps, and institutionalised state discrimination manifesting itself in police harassment and difficulties in obtaining medical treatment. Official contempt for sex work is also reflected in public attitudes, so most sex workers do not talk to relatives about their work and the associated problems, which often leads to communication breakdown and conflict within families as sex workers try to keep their secrets.
Seven different categories of sex work can be bought in China:
- 'second wives' have the superficial identity of concubines. However, second wives charge by time, usually per month, providing sexual services without the emotional and family elements which usually accompany the concubine's role;
- 'packaged women' work similarly to second wives but they do not live with the client, only 'packaged' for a business trip;
- 'female companions' are active in cabarets, dance halls and restaurants charge by the hour. This service varies between merely accompanying a client while he visits the venue, to the 'quickie', to the 'overnight package';
- 'ding dong girls' ('ding dong' refers to the doorbell) rent their own room and call clients by telephone after initial contact by another worker in the same establishment;
- 'hair salon' or 'massage parlour' girls who on the surface wash hair or feet, or massage clients, but they also "do the business" in the establishment. They have less opportunity to 'go out' with clients or provide the 'overnight package';
- 'street girls' usually hang around motels, cinemas etc. and perform 'quickies' elsewhere once a client is interested. Some accompany clients to the cinema, but they are actually providing a fondling service.
- 'underclass women' generally service migrant workers, living in urban slum dwellings on construction sites. For some this is occasional or part time work, but others live with workers. They represent the lowest stratum of sex work, some doing it for basic food.
Chinese sex workers in Zhuhai
My name is Qing Qing. I am from Hunan. I am 20 years old. I am a sex worker. When I first came to the south, I earned Rmb500 - 600 per month working in a factory. I worked at an electronics factory for three months, working over ten hours per day often from 7.30 a.m. till 10.30 p.m., though the labour law states we should only work eight hours per day. After three months, through friends and family, I began work in a Karaoke earning over Rmb10,000 per month. I eat and dress well, and admire this job very much.
Then I started to work in a night club in a Zhuhai hotel. I was not used to that kind of work. For a start, I started work at 8 o'clock at night. I just bought a ticket to enter the club, costing Rmb20 then I could work, protected by a Madam. If I want time off, I let the Madam know. I do not sign a work contract.
Only the girls who work there buy the Rmb20 ticket. The customers don't buy a ticket but there is a minimum charge for them. Generally all the girls sit in the lobby. The customers select one, then they will drink, sing, and dance together, but they can't get up to anything else in there.
When we serve these customers, we can get tips, like Rmb200 service charge which we don't have to give to the Madam or anyone else.
Usually the Karaoke is open from 8 p.m. until midnight. A woman who sits with a customer until he leaves will receive the Rmb200 service charge which is for service for the whole night, or sometimes for two nights. Sometimes you can manage more than one table in a night [and so earn more money].
Rmb200 is the minimum charge, but if a customer likes your service, you can earn five or six hundred a night.
I am 19, and my name is Ah Lan. I worked in a porcelain tile factory in my village in Hunan. According to China's Labour Law, workers under 16 are defined as child workers. I started work when I was 13 because our house collapsed after heavy rain. The houses in my village are over 100 years old, and collapse easily.
I became a child worker because the economic situation in my family was very bad after the house collapsed, so I decided to stop attending school and look for work. I worked in the tile factory for two years.
In the factory I only earned Rmb300 per month at the very most. When I was 15, a friend told me I could earn up to Rmb10,000 per month, so I decided to leave home. Work in the factory was quite free because we were paid by piece rate. After I decided to leave home, I worked in Changsha [capital of Hunan] in a salon. I sat in the salon waiting for customers. The customer first talked to the salon employer to decide the price. Every job is worth Rmb200, and I have to pay Rmb50 of this to the employer.
After the negotiation about the price, the girl can then choose whether she will go out with this customer.
I did this job for six months. I met a boyfriend, but he cheated me. I was so disappointed that I went home and stayed there for one year. But the economic situation there did not improve, so I decided to leave again, this is why I am here now. I have been in Zhuhai for two months up to now.
This time I started working in a salon inside a hotel. Because the Madam of the salon is too unreasonable, she kicked us out. Then I went to a massage salon as a masseuse. I am now applying for a visa for Macao to make money. I hope to make Rmb150,000 there then I will go home.
I am from Hunan. I never did sex work in China. When I first went to Zhuhai, I worked for ten days setting the tables in a restaurant and talked to customers. Then I went home and applied for a visa to Hong Kong.
I worked in an old district of Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po, working the streets. I have all kinds of customers, some are good and some are not. A good customer is very sympathetic, and asks for permission if they have special requests. When customers have special requests, I have to refuse.
For example when a customer wanted to kiss her, she refused, and that ended the business.
When I first came to Hong Kong for ten days I earned HK$10,000 (about US$1,300). But I spent about Rmb20,000 for the visa and the passport to come to Hong Kong. The passport is valid for five years, but I must apply for and buy a visa each time I come here.
I don't like working in Hong Kong. I do not know my way around or what the policemen look like.
The second time in Hong Kong I stayed seven days and earned about HK$5,000. I needed a ticket to Thailand which cost over HK$3,000 and I had to rent a room, so I lost money on that trip.
The first time I went to Macao, I made money.
I do not like to keep changing my working environment. But I have to earn a living, so I have no choice.
After the trip to Hong Kong, I lost a lot of weight. I could not adapt to the environment, and I could not eat the food there.
I don't want to be a sex worker any more, I want to go home. But I am in debt because I borrowed money from friends to loan to another friend, but she got arrested, and could not repay the money. So to pay this off, I want to go to Macao. I prefer Macao because I can eat the food there, unlike Hong Kong.
One time when I was working in Changsha, five customers wanted five girls. They looked like gangsters. After we did the business, all five refused to pay. The salon boss would not confront them, because they looked like gangsters. So we got nothing.
Since I finished factory work I have been a sex worker off and on for one year.
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