An innocent late-night stroll on Jianshe Liu Malu in downtown Guangzhou can be quite the education. Groups of dolled up working girls stand idly at street corners, giving suggestive looks to passersby, accosting those who shoot so much as a furtive glance their way.
Discussion of the “world’s oldest profession”, a phrase coined by Rudyard Kipling in his short story ‘On the City Wall,’ has flared up again recently, due to the Chinese government’s nationwide prostitution crackdown. Back in February, Dongguan became the first city on the hit list. Xinhua News reported that 6,000 police raided nearly 2,000 entertainment venues and detained more than 900 people – with 10 senior officers being suspended from duty or penalised in the process.
In Guangzhou on February 11, police arrested 98 people suspected of involvement in illegal activities, including the sex trade and gambling, and more than 20 entertainment venues were closed.
A quick scan on an international sex guide website and one can see the police’s concern. Blogs, forums and testimonials are plentiful with ‘mongers’ listing Kama Club, Nova Club and Cave Bar as harlot hotspots.
The prostitution debate is as complex as it is controversial. Arguments for or against can rarely be formed abstractly and usually change depending on which coun- try the act is taking place in.
What is applicable in almost every instance is that the sex trade doesn’t just fuel prostitution but gives rise to narcotics, money laundering and gang protection – some RMB50 billion is estimated to be at stake in lost revenue from the Dongguan hit.
The sex trade has a visceral effect on innumerable areas of society. Economists have calculated that as much as 10 percent of Dongguan’s economic activity will be affected by the crackdown. Taxi drivers have lost their commission from brothels and landlords are now having a hard time renting out apartments, as prostitutes haven’t returned after New Year vacations. Club managers and even DJs have been afflicted, as there are no open party dens to play in.
As to the reason why it’s so prevalent in the nation’s major cities, well, as always, it’s a matter of money. There simply isn’t any regular employment in China that can compare to the amount of cash a prostitute can potentially make. Think of Western countries where working in a clothing store, co ee shop, bar or restaurant pays quite well – especially for a young, single girl. Starbucks, for example, pays RMB67 an hour in England. In China, the wage can be as low as RMB10.
Regular jobs are often office and retail roles and, for six days a week, eight hours a day, pay around RMB4,000-5,000 a month. Those working in factories usually only get two days o a month.
In bordellos, which are often presented as high-end KTVs, a girl’s sitting fee alone is around RMB150, and that can go up to RMB500 for more sought-after companions. ‘Work’ is only about six to seven hours, and that mainly consists of drinking and singing. If the women were to actually sell their bodies, the low- est rates run between RMB500 and RMB1,500 – and that doesn’t necessarily include sexual inter- course. For an overnight, full- service romp, girls can and do charge up to RMB3,000.
A standard job that earns RMB4,000-5,000 every month cannot compete with RMB6,000 a month as a low-level KTV girl. For higher-tier girls who are popular with high rollers, it’s not unusual for them to be pulling in RMB18,000 a month on just three tricks each week.
Other sex workers, such as those working in massage parlors or saunas, charge around RMB300 for a ‘happy ending’ massage. The house normally takes RMB100, but RMB200 for 90 minutes work is understandably a big incentive.
It’s important to remember also that the girls working at KTVs, saunas and massage parlors aren’t forced to be there and can leave at anytime. What alternative job that doesn’t require a degree or experience is there that would pay so much? From the point of view of a girl with few future prospects, more money from less work is an attractive proposal.
Back in 2009, Insight China magazine published the results of an online survey: 7.9 percent of the 3,376 Chinese citizens polled considered prostitutes more trustworthy than politicians. Due to recent events, it’s worth wondering what the ranking would be this time round.