Chinese sex workers, in and out of China

To those inundated by the same crude message about sex trafficking over and over, two news stories may surprise. In the first, Chinese women who travel to Malaysia are considered interesting not because of any scandal or scourge but because of culture. Not long ago, this story would not have seemed quite so odd – before all women who travel to sell sex were transformed by the Rescue Industry into pathetic victims.

Malaysia just like home for prostitutes from China
28 February 2012, Borneo Post

Kuala Lumpur . . .influx of ‘freelance’ prostitutes from China. . . they liked the climate here which was not far different from China’s. . . They speak Mandarin, which makes it easy for them to mix with the local Chinese community and their food back home is almost similar to the Chinese food here. The availability of budget flights and Internet access are also catalysts for them to come to this country. . . preliminary investigation found that these women who worked through syndicates would return to Malaysia [after being sent home] on student visas and resume working as freelance prostitutes as the earnings were lucrative. . . most of the Chinese nationals interrogated used student visas to enable them to enter the country unimpeded.

. . .Chinese nationals made up the most number of people arrested for prostitution at 653 from January to February 15. This was followed by those from Vietnam (367), Thailand (300), Indonesia (177), the Philippines (55), Uzbekistan (19), Myanmar (14), Cambodia (10), Bangladesh (nine), Mongolia (six), Nigeria and Sri Langka (four each), and India (one). The highest number of arrests involved Chinese nationals at 5,753 in 2009, 6,378 in 2010 and 5,922 in 2011.

That’s a lot of arrests, so it’s not a good story, but notable that the women are not described as trafficking victims. The reference to a syndicate may be to agencies who process visas for students, including students who do not intend to study.

Why would women from China travel to Malaysia to sell sex, given this arrest rate? Consider how they are treated in China.

The oldest profession seeks respect
9 September 2011, The 4th Media

Lin is just 17 . .  Although she knows nothing about cutting hair, she’s employed by a hair salon that can be spotted from the street by a sparkling pink barber pole that glows through the windows at night . . .she has already suffered the humiliation of being handcuffed and detained by police several times.

The salon owner surnamed Wang and an employee surnamed Li get worked up as they rant about the treatment they receive from the police. Li said police have raided her shop twice in the last four months. . . Wang jumps in with angry tales of frequent visits by the police that cost her 600 to 800 yuan in fines to retrieve her employees from the police station. . . A day or two after the raid Wang’s salon is back in business. Wang said she would rather pay for a license, get legal protection and follow required health regulations. “I offer a service that I’m not forcing anyone to take. I’m doing a good thing. It’s not easy making money these days,” she said, adding that one of her four employees was abandoned by her husband, and another has several children to feed. Wang takes a 20 percent commission from the women who average little more than 100 yuan per day [12 euros].

. . .The ubiquitous salons mainly employ women from the countryside, who have little education, few opportunities at home and little chance of doing well in a cosmopolitan city. . . many of the salons operate on the fringe of the law and provide sex services to some of the millions of migrant men who leave home for many months at a time. . .

Young teen Lin resisted becoming a full-time sex worker. She felt disgraced and uncomfortable with her coquettish colleagues. She went home to her village but there was nothing for her to do and soon returned to Yulin and sex work and now supports herself and her family. She moved to another salon that treats her better and says she actually enjoys the job.

. . .A xiaojie, which is a euphemism for sex worker, is treated with disdain by open society. . .the police who often publicly humiliate the xiaojie in hopes of deterring others from entering the profession or in an effort to be seen to be cleaning up a neighborhood. The main targets of the police are the migrant xiaojie who work in small salons or massage parlors. The high-end call girls working out of big nightclubs and luxury hotels are seldom harassed. Prostitution in China is punishable by a maximum 15 days in detention and a fine of 5,000 yuan [600 euros].

For more information see Migrant sex workers in China: massage parlours, hair salons, hotel rooms.

–Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

2 thoughts on “Chinese sex workers, in and out of China

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