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The Naked Anthropologist · Dongguan China | Sex Industry | Standardisation | Sex workers | The Naked Anthropologist

扫黄 Sweeping the yellow in China’s sex-industry-standardised capital

 黄(huang2) (yellow) means pornography and prostitution. 扫黄 (sao3huang2) means sweeping the yellow, referring to police crackdowns, also known as cleanup campaigns and rooting out ‘vice’ and consisting of general harassment of sex workers. Such a sweep is underway in Dongguan, a manufacturing centre in Guangdong province known as China’s sex capital. What’s more interesting is how this city’s sex industry uses modern business techniques. Southern Metropolis Weekly’s new cover shows a typical sms message advertising sex services received by visitors and explains how Dongguan’s manufacturing practices have seeped over into the sex industry in the form of standardised services. Complaints aboutt the uncertain nature of services provided by ordinary sex establishments go like this: ‘Whether you pay 300 or 1,500 yuan, what you pay for isn’t what you end up getting. Say there’s a girl who claims to be skilled in a particular service. She’ll actually be rough and clumsy. And because it’s all grey-market, if they overcharge you, you just have to accept that you’re getting screwed.’ The following excerpts explain how standardisation works, including how sex workers train themselves. Note: 100 yuan = 10 euros

Dongguan’s ISO Sex Industry

4 December 2009, Southern Metropolis Weekly

. . . The catchy phrases manage, in the space of a few dozen characters, to clearly lay out an establishment’s offerings — usually “Dongguan-style service” — price, and contact person. The goal is clear: practically all men of means across the Pearl River Delta will receive these messages. Mai, the manager of a mass SMS distribution company in Houjiezhen said, “For just 200 yuan, you can have a company send a text message to 7,000 car owners in the Pearl River Delta.”

. . . The saunas of Dongguan and its surroundings are known for the following: for 400 to 600 yuan, sex workers will provide 15 to 30 different types of services over the course of two hours. These sex services are standardized, from the opening strip tease and the sex worker’s expression to the number of times the customer can climax. The rise of the manufacturing industry in recent years has brought ideas about standardized production along with it. Workers in local manufacturing who frequent Dongguan’s sex industry jokingly call the sex standards the industry’s “ISO,” which even has its own ex-post evaluation system. Practically all of Dongguan’s hotels and saunas will ask customers for an itemized assessment, and if any girl is thought to be slacking off or is no longer attractive to customers, her wages will be cut.

To keep up turnover rates, saunas in Dongguan are set up with many rooms on multiple floors, all of which are furnished with the waterbeds and dance floors needed for services, but the steam rooms and lounge areas found in ordinary saunas are not found. Reporters found that because of “ISO,” competition revolves around the opulence of furnishings, and the size or particular characteristics of its group of sex workers . . .

Reporters found that no one in that line of work could say with certainty where these services originated. Some described them as coming from the “Thai baths” (aka body massage) that are familiar to men in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but in training centers, sex workers typically used adult videos from Japan as their source for new techniques. The training process is more intense than the technical training given to factory workers, and its contents include the use of fruit to increase sex workers’ mouth strength. “A dozen days of training is enough to take the skin off your knees,” one sex worker who recently entered the profession told this reporter.

Another aspect of the crackdown is translated at China Hush.

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  1. Imposing standards on an industry that doesn’t have equal protection laws in place or enforced is an unfair business practice by itself.
    But imposing standards on a business that subjected to arbitrary raids…time to unionize.

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  2. Two weeks i heard some chinese said actually the raids aim at the political dissidents and people who are trouble to the government, and since there is no justifiable reason for the raids, the sex work, which is a social and political symbolic of unacceptable illegal activity, becomes the symbolic target and the cover to cover those secret raids. Also, the raid on the sex work is always the easy target for the government to show its will of power of ruling to keep a safe city.

    As for the standardization of the business, what interests me more is about how the industrial development in Dongguan influences the sex work culture, especially as we know that the technology development in China is prosperous in coping new tech and making many cheaper and more popular but so-called “fake” products (like cellphone).

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  3. hello again, ted. what’s fake about the phones you mention?

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  4. sorry for my bad english and unclear point and late reply (coz i only have weekend off in the compulsory army service)
    i don’t know the exact term of fake products, in chinese it is called ZhengJai, refering to the copy, counterfeit and the imitation of the original products, for example, there are many local brand cellphones, maybe illegal or registered, made just like Apple’s I-pod or other big brand cellphones. Especially there are many outsourcing manufactoring factories in china making the original products and sometimes the factories will copy these products and sell the copies in the market, these copies are cheaper and more accessable for most people. so what i mean about the fakeness of the phones in the previous comment is: with such a technological development and the ZhengJai copy culture, especially when more and more people can enjoy the convenience of the change of the technology resulted by the technological copy culture, i believe that maybe the standardization of the business is closely related to such development, the underground, illegal copy culture, which brings the convenience of the circulation of the sex business information and allows more and more people access to the information. so maybe the popular copy culture in china has great influence the way of sex-money exchange culture in recent years? and when the mainstream is trying to raid sex industry and condemning the copy culture, the two underground culture may be actually closely connected and make each prosperous.

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