I love an alliterative title, and this seems a fitting way to close the book on prostitution in China and move on with the rest of the Sex and Sexuality theme. Because of the breadth of the topic, I’ll almost certainly end up touching on the issue again in later posts but this blog is supposed to be about the larger topic of China and not an endless litany of material regarding sex work, so for now this is the last one.
Back in 1996, the Shanghai Police Department went to work and decided to define seven (count them!) levels of prostitution inside the country. This framework has now been adopted throughout the country from a legal perspective and also in discussion, though it certainly does not cover all types of sex work. It must have been a fascinating meeting where the scale was invented – with a load of guys each determined that their preference for an evening’s entertainment didn’t end up on the bottom of the scale, and the boss ensuring his was on top (so to speak).
At the top, are the second wives or er nai – which have been the subject of a couple of posts in this series already. It is debatable whether all these women are in fact sex workers, as many fulfill the same role as a “mistress” in Western culture –where they would not be considered to be prostitutes. However these ladies essentially sell their time exclusively to a single client, in exchange either for money or gifts or a combination of both.
Next you have the escorts or as they are known locally bao po (literally contracted wives) these ladies are much like second wives but are contracted for a shorter term basis, usually as much for impressing businessmen with their looks as for the actual sex.
The third tier is the KTV Hostess level (peinu) these girls work in KTV parlors throughout China. In the first instance, and to preserve propriety, they are there to be paid company whilst in the KTV itself and can earn from a few quai to thousands of quai just to drink and play dice with rich businessmen. In reality most (though not all) of these girls can be persuaded to earn a little extra by accompanying those businessmen home at the end of the night. KTV girls are in a position of relative privilege in that they can say; “no” without causing offence.
Moving on down the list, next up you have the Hotel Hookers (dingdong xiaojie – the “ding dong” is the sound of a doorbell, rather like anywhere in the world), these girls work in and from hotels, often knocking on the door of single male guests or calling them from inside the hotel to offer their services. This kind of work is pretty popular amongst students trying to make ends meet during their run through university.
The fifth tier probably does the most work, the Barbershop Girls (falangmei) though they aren’t limited to barbershops, but also appear as happy ending girls in spas, saunas, massage houses, etc. These girls often offer non-sexual services as well as sex as part of their cover in these businesses. However the down side for these ladies is that their earnings tend to depend on the numbers of men they “service” daily and as such they compensate in volume for their low wages.
The penultimate profession is street walking (jienu) and these girls make their living outside of bars, clubs, etc. touting for business. They normally have to hold down a day job too in order to make ends meet. Normally street walkers are those girls who have been thrown out of other types of sex work and they can bring real problems to their clients.
And yesterday we looked at the poor unfortunate souls serving at the bottom of the ladder, the xiagongpeng who eke out a miserable living serving those at the bottom of China’s financial ladder.
As I said at the start the list obviously leaves out several types of sex worker, but this is the definitive guide for classification of prostitutes in China at this moment in time.