Prostitution and China’s Sex Trade

11 Feb

Prostitution throughout mainland China has long since been a contentious issue and campaigns and legislations have endeavoured to cease its practice since the Communist Party’s rise to power in 1949. During that period, a strong emphasis was put upon eradicating prostitution from mainland China by the 1960s. The abolition of prostitution in 1955 (Vincent et al., 1996) was recognized as one of the great achievements of the new leadership. However, these efforts and legislative progression were short lived. Since the 1980s, loosening of government control over society has seen a revival of wide-scale female prostitution, affecting both urban and rural environments. Due to this re-emergence, prostitution (which remains illegal) and the sex trade more specifically, now play a significant role in China’s economy and is a recognised industry with a steady economic output. Zhong (2000) estimates that there are between 4 and 6 million people employed in this sector, equating to an approximated annual level of consumption of 1 trillion RMB.

As one can assume, partaking in such an illicit practice brings with it some substantial social, psychological and physiological consequences. This style of economy is heavily linked with organized crime, government corruption and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to name but a few. The police have been known to be associated with running high grade hotels and accepting monetary bribes, or more crudely, sexual favours in return for silence. It had also been widely reported that a Communist Party Official was removed from his post as a campaigner against corruption, due to being caught with a prostitute.

China has also seen a rise in the level of HIV/AIDS victims, as a result of prostitution and the sex trade. China is by no means heading towards a HIV/AIDS epidemic, but it has been estimated that the number of people in China living with HIV is between 500,000 and 1.5 million people. An official report published in February 2009 stated that for the first time, HIV/AIDS was China’s leading cause of death among infectious diseases.

The process of human trafficking also presents huge ethical and legal problems within China. As the third largest country in the World, China has 14 border countries allowing for the movement of young women from regions such as Vietnam, Russia, Korea and Burma. The Ministry of Public Security has stated that the percentage of people trafficked for sexual exploitation has risen to between 50 and 60% (of total trafficking incidences). The misguided promise of a steady job, housing and a monthly salary, often by people victims know and trust, entices the most vulnerable women who are sold for large profits as wives, or for the sex trade.

Will there ever be an end to prostitution and the sex trade in China? Throughout the early 1990s, more recognition was given to the growing problem at hand. In early 1991 several prostitution laws were introduced, including the Decision on Strictly Forbidding the Selling and Buying of Sex and the Decision on the Severe Punishment of Criminals Who Abduct and Traffic in or Kidnap Women and Children. These were put in place in order to protect the human rights of those involved in these illicit activities.

Chinese police regularly conduct patrols of public spaces in order to deter against the practice of prostitution. There has also been a reliance on police led campaigns, creating long periods of heavy police presence in areas most renowned for the sex trade industry. This is used as a form of social disciple.

Recently reported, a crackdown was launched in Dongguan following a state TV report on prostitution in the Southern City. As a result of the report’s broadcast on a local channel, CCTV, police arrested 67 people, shut down 12 “entertainment” venues and suspended 2 police chiefs. Dongguan, the “capital of sex” or “sin city”, was specifically targeted due to its sex trade reputation. Covert reporting showed female sex workers and managers discussing fees for sexual services. After this TV report was released, 6000 officers sieged a number of entertainment establishments. This exemplifies some of what the Chinese government is doing to try to combat this growing problem.

It does seem however that policing this activity is near impossible, especially at higher level prostitution practices. So much money is being made through the buying, selling and exploitation of women that the cessation of such a degrading and immoral practice seems a long way away.

Jess Mowat


One Response to “Prostitution and China’s Sex Trade”

  1. hm9g12 February 13, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    I agree with your conclusion – that the cessation of sex work in China is a long way off, due to the difficulties of policing the practise, and would go further, saying that it is not only difficult for the police, but dangerous for sex workers.

    As you mentioned, the sex trade is linked to corruption, violence, organized crime, and STIs, creating a very dangerous environment for those women/men that are involved – either through trafficking, necessity, or choice. I would argue that instead of increasing prostitutions illegality, and therefore pushing it further and further underground, it should instead by legalised. By doing so, the industry could be much better regulated, creating a safer environment for prostitutes, sex workers, and indeed clients. Legalisation would mean prostitutes could be required to attend regular health check-ups, decreasing the risk of STIs, it would give the prostitute employment rights, allowing her/him to go to the police if a client was violent towards them (which is often the case), and it would decrease the amount the public pays to police prostitution, instead raising taxes, as prostitutes would now pay tax on their earnings, just as everyone else must.

    Furthermore, it has been reported by the Human Rights Watch that in China, sex workers experience actual abuse by police, including physical assault, arbitrary detentions and extortion. Therefore policing prostitution in China can be seen to be dangerous not only due to the way in which it pushes the practise further underground, but also in that prostitutes are routinely harmed at the hands of the police themselves.

    Although the legalization of sex work is clearly a long way off happening in China, and in most of the world, I think it is something that must be seriously considered. There’s a reason it’s called “the world’s oldest profession” – it’s always been around, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Therefore, we should make the best out of a bad situation, bringing prostitution out into the open, making a safer working environment for those who are often most vulnerable.

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