“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”
The Wedding of Qualitative
Research and Public Health Policy
I want to
begin with two marvelous jokes by Professor Pan Suiming.
Prostitute says to her customer, ¡°Move your head, I am watching TV.¡± A
family of three was talking about prostitution. The husband said,¡± One act
with a prostitute in some city is worth three years¡¯ salary!¡± The wife
immediately responded, ¡°Then, never visit a prostitute.¡± The daughter
unexpectedly said, ¡°I should do this work.¡± (Pan Suiming in Gail
I open with this quote from Pan Suiming because it
captures some of generational attitudes and economic incentives for sex work
within contemporary China. In honor of Pan Suiming¡¯s work on prostitution
in China, this paper focuses on my ethnographic research among prostitutes
and their clients in Jinghong, Xishuangbanna Dai-L¨¹e Autonomous Prefecture
in Yunnan. During eighteen months of intensive fieldwork in 1996, summer
1997, and summer 2000, on the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in
southwest China, I observed prostitutes and their clients in the city of
Jinghong. Also, in line with qualitative research methods, I conducted
twenty interviews with men and women of diverse occupations. In this paper
I want to highlight five key points: 1) that Chinese male tourists are the
customers of sex workers in Jinghong; 2) that there is currently a keen
awareness of HIV/AIDS among female sex workers in Jinghong; 3) that condoms
are readily available in private drugstores and sex shops; 4) that sex
workers regard foreign men rather than Chinese men as having AIDS; and, 5)
that sex workers do have a certain amount of power to make choices about how
to protect themselves.
As such this paper is divided into three parts. Part one
focuses on prostitution in a global context. Part two on my ethnography of
one hair salon/brothel and how prostitutes talk about xingbing
(STDs). Part three provides a list of policy recommendations for the
prevention of HIV/AIDS among sex workers.
Sex Workers in a Global Context
Sex workers now constitute a key medical and social focus
within both narrative and statistical accounts of how STDs and AIDS are
spread across the globe including inside China (Pan Suiming 1992 & 1999,
Farmer 1996, Gil 1993).
Sex workers are perceived as an epidemiological threat to their customers
the world over because AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease and
prostitutes are engaged in exchanging sex for money. Many countries have
noted that the epidemic spreads along transportation lines and trucker¡¯s
routes that are often lined by small brothels. Therefore, the global AIDS
pandemic universally marks female sex workers¡¯ bodies as stigmatized
bodies. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa the AIDS virus is traced through
these truck routes in countries such as Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, the
Central African Republic, South Africa and the Congo. Regarding sex workers
in the United States, several studies have pointed to a different narrative
in which prostitutes are more vigilant about safer sex practices compared to
women in the general population. For example in San Francisco, sex workers
have developed unique ways to protect themselves, such as putting on condoms
with their mouths so their clients are not fully aware of the condoms
Although up to forty-four percent of the prostitutes in southeast Asian
countries such as Thailand are HIV positive, the types of methods used to
protect against sexually transmitted diseases, or the lack of access to
public health interventions, are not well understood by public health
workers (Beyer 1998:23).
Ronald Weitzer (2000) notes that in
discussions of prostitution there is often a passive neglect about defining
exactly what kind of work prostitutes perform in what location. As Weitzer
notes, ¡°sex work is a generic term for commercial sex services,
performances, or products given in exchange for material compensation¡± (Weitzer
2000:5). In this paper, I use the Chinese term jinu (prostitute)
which is commonly used on the street to explain various different kinds of
prostitutes. In Jinghong all of the women I came in contact with performed
a variety of services that ranged from providing simply massages (aimo)
to actual hand jobs (tuiyou), to having sex with men back in their
hotel rooms. In some feminist and social work circles in Yunnan, for
example, at the Women and Children¡¯s Law Project in Jinghong, the western
term for sex worker (xing gongzuozhe) has been appropriated as a
modern term of respect for the women that work in the sex industry. In
Jinghong I worked closely with several women in one hair salon that I call
the New Wind. This salon provides evidence of the changing political
economy in Jinghong, and in general in a tourist town near China¡¯s border
The New Wind Hair Salon in Jinghong
Development in Xishuangbanna has meant that a small town
on the Lancang river has become a local site for sex tourism. Jinghong is a
city of prostitution (piaocheng) according to the local folklore, and more
importantly, in terms of the local economy it provides Han Chinese male
tourists with a sex tourist destination. According to scholar Qin Hongping
(1995), ninety percent of the tourists who came to Jinghong are Han Chinese
from all over mainland China (only ten percent foreigners). These Chinese
cadres and businessmen pay for evening entertainment provided by female sex
workers. What Han male tourists come to Jinghong to consume, besides the
scenery and the wildlife, are the local minority women. However, the
majority of the prostitutes are not minority women but migrant Han women
from Sichuan and Guizhou, who dress in traditional Dai clothing to attract
Han males. The Han migrant women, just like the Han male customers who
consume them, provide the allure that is marketed in tourist brochures and
billboards displaying Dai women. Prostitution practices within this Han
Chinese governed Dai autonomous region constitute a ¡°site of desire¡± (Manderson
and Jolly 1997:1). What Han tourists¡¯ purchase are fantasies of a
beautiful Dai woman who will appease their sexual desires.
Jinghong¡¯s streets are lined with small shops and at
every corner there are hair salons (meirongting or lifadian)
that are often legal fronts for illegal brothels. Let¡¯s enter the New
Wind Hair Salon.
Dancing between the colored lights on a summer
evening, the sounds of crickets compete with taxi engines. Disturbing the
pace of a slow evening stroll, Madam Liu[iii][iii]
gathers her blue and white polyester suit in her hands, and cackling in her
Guizhounese accent, shouts at the top of her lungs to men passing-by: "Do
you want your hair washed? How about a massage? My girls here give great
Most men ignore Madam Liu or just stare, others opt for
the hair wash. While men sit in her salon chair, she begins to encourage
and negotiate with a man to purchase a female escort for the evening. A
massage is a euphemism for a hand-job (tuiyou ¨C the literal
translation is pushing out oil). Most on-site services never go beyond a
massage and a hand-job. Sometimes local men pay for particular women for
the evening. Madam Liu¡¯s salon is clean with whitewashed walls and a large
red plastic awning that falls limp under the immense humidity. Her
white-painted front room presents the conventional accoutrements of a beauty
salon: chairs, bottles of shampoo, brushes, combs, curling irons, blow
dryers, and a large electric water boiler. Another room next door has three
massage tables, frilly flowered curtains divide the space between each
table, and a larger electric water heater sits above the sink next to a door
leading to a bathroom out the back. Liu¡¯s two rooms are divided spatially,
one shadowed with tinted glass and the other bright with white tiles. On
the walls are posters of beautiful white and Asian women with different
In the summer of 1997, there were over 100
small salons like Madam Liu¡¯s in Jinghong. By the summer of 200, there
were 200 salons like Madam Liu¡¯s in Jinghong city. They ranged from beauty
salons that only cut hair, to salons that cut hair and had a prostitution
business on the side like Madam Liu's place, to places that are salons in
name only. Madam Liu's place served a dual function: It was foremost a
legitimate hair salon that provided legal haircuts and massages for male
tourists, and secondarily, it was an illegal sexual massage parlor for the
middle-class male tourists that stayed in the nearby three-star hotel.[iv][iv]
Madam Liu often worked from one o¡¯clock in the afternoon to one o¡¯clock in
the morning, beginning with hair cuts in the afternoon and ending in the
early morning hours with ¡°out-calls¡±, where her female staff went with men
to their hotel rooms for paid sex. When I first came to know Madam Liu in
1997, she had four women working for her -- Xiao An and Xiao You from rural
northwestern Yunnan, and Xiao Zhang and Xiao Zhou, from rural villages in
Sichuan. Liu provided housing for her workers, paid their medical bills,
bought them clothes, told them what to wear, how to apply make-up, and when
and how to receive customers. Madam Liu was in effect a padrone; she
and her staff were in a patron-client relationship. This did not mean that
the staff had no power to negotiate or maneuver within the confines of the
salon or within the larger community in Xishuangbanna. Staff members often
refused the likes of a customer based on the way he looked, the car he
drove, or just out of boredom.
While the encounters at the salon involved mainly giving
hand-jobs (tuiyou) in the back room, sexual encounters that required
condoms were always outside the salon. Men would negotiate these encounters
by driving or walking up to the salon, and discussing the price and the
place with Madam Liu. She would then yell at one woman to come over and go
with the man to his hotel. Usually, they just went, smiling at me as they
left. At other times, a woman would refuse, depending on the circumstances
and her impression of the man. Xiao Zhu, in particular, did not always
follow Madam Liu's demands, and a shouting match ensued between the two of
them. Often, Xiao Zhu won. She did not have to do what Madam Liu demanded.
Madam Liu kept close watch on her staff and
distributed condoms to those women working on out-calls and visiting men at
their hotels. On these out-calls the women would present themselves at the
front desk of the hotel as there to wash clothes, deliver food, or just
visit a patron at the hotel. On these occasions, Madam Liu would open one
of the drawers in the front room and take out one condom and ceremoniously
hand it to Xiao Zhu or Xiao Zhang. She would remind them of their code
words. "Say you are there to wash clothes, and don't forget to tell them
this when you knock on the door." It was on these out-calls that ¡°unsafe
sexual practices¡± came into play. Though the women often insisted that
they used condoms, they also remarked that some Chinese men did not like to
use them because they decreased sensation. Liu said that in Thailand, by
contrast, condoms are the norm but Chinese men are not used to them. Liu
remarked she had traveled to Thailand twice for vacations.
Talking about Xingbing
STDs have now overtaken tuberculosis to become the third
most common category of infectious disease in China after dysentery and
hepatitis. Since the introduction of market reforms in the early 1980s, the
Center for Disease Prevention in Beijing attributes this increase to changes
in social mores, the rise in promiscuity and the low levels of
risk-awareness among ordinary people (AFP Newsgroup May 6, 1999). By the
end of 1999, China had almost one million reported infections of sexually
transmitted diseases. When I left China in the summer of 1997, there were
six thousand reported cases of HIV infection, and by the end of 1998, the
estimated number of cases had jumped to 500,000 (Liu Baoying 2000). By
April 2000, Liu Baoying reported in the People's Daily (Renmin Ribao)
that the Chinese incidence of AIDS was increasing by twenty to thirty
percent over each previous year. It is with these statistics in mind, that
I locate both sexual practices in a hair salon and the market for condoms in
pharmacies, sex shops, and in a hair salon cum brothel. The sexual
practices that these locations suggest demonstrate that a new politics of
sexuality is emerging within sight of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the city of
Everyone who worked at the New Wind
talked about AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea (aizibing, meidu, linbing)
and how to prevent them. Xiao You, Xiao An, Xiao Zhou and Xiao Zhang, all
repeatedly that all you need to do is "keep yourself clean" (baohu ziji,
baohu ganjing) which meant no more than bathing after servicing a
customer. This idea of keeping yourself clean meant no more to Xiao You,
Xiao An, Xiao Zhou, Xiao Zhang and Madam Liu than washing regularly and
using condoms with those customers who would agree to use them. They
often remarked if you baohu ziji, baohu ganjing then taking care of
yourself and keeping clean would prevent you from getting AIDS. When the
staff at the salon joked about AIDS, it was to accuse one another of having
it. Xiao Yuan said Xiao Zhang was so thin that she must have AIDS.
Despite Madam Liu's request for me to find her more foreigners, the workers
at the salon said they would never have sex with foreign men, and men from
Thailand in particular. They all had AIDS. While Madam Liu, the owner of
the salon, would pass out condoms to women working on out-calls, none of the
prostitutes in the salon said they came into contact with public health
officials let alone ones giving out condoms. The women who worked at the
New Wind never saw or knew anyone with AIDS in Jinghong. Xiao An's
cousin, who was also from Ruili, spoke about a man she knew in Ruili who had
As a former AIDS counselor in the United
States, I often lapsed into my diatribe about how difficult AIDS is to
transmit through casual physical contact; how crucial it is for Xiao Zhang,
You, Zhou and Zhu to use condoms to prevent further sexual transmission. In
response they all vociferously agreed. Nonetheless, they often contradicted
themselves when it came to the practice of using condoms. They used them
religiously. They used them over their customer¡¯s objections. They used
them only when customers did not object. It was apparent that condoms were
in plentiful supply. As we have seen, Jinghong was full of shops carrying
condoms. They came in small boxes promoting ¡°pregnancy prevention covers¡±
(biyun tao) with glossy photographs of sexy white and Han women
seductively posed in lingerie.
Sex Toys, Condoms and HIV/AIDS Prevention
Whereas the Chinese state has made great strides
in addressing the AIDS epidemic with full force, the current
decentralization of provincial and county power means that in those counties
where public health officials are eager to prevent AIDS, programs exist. In
those counties where public health officials are reticent, programs for AIDS
prevention take a back seat to other priorities.
In many geographic locales in China very little is currently understood
about the relationship between prostitution practices and the spread of HIV,
apart from the speculation that women with many male partners are prone to
infecting themselves, their clients, their boyfriends and husbands (see Hyde
1999). This lack of knowledge is partially explained by the fact that
prostitution is labeled as a crime against the state; it is not a legal nor
regulated industry (Hershatter 1997; Remick 1997; Gil 1993; Pan Suiming
In addition, the recent decline of China¡¯s public health system means that
many people must fend for themselves in terms of accessing health care
services. In a recent study, the World Health Organization claims that
China¡¯s health status has declined dramatically in the past ten years.
China moved down forty-four points, from a country rank of 144 to 188, due
to the increasing privatization of health care, and the uneven access to
care among China¡¯s poor (New York Times June 21, 2000). Although the AIDS
epidemic inside China has forced changes in socialist health care policy and
attitudes toward sexuality, the sitgmatization of prostitution continues.
Even with this stigmatization, the current practice of providing condoms to
prostitutes and the proliferation of condom sales in Jinghong shows at least
the potential for marketing safer sex practices within a sex tourism site.
With the rise of the market economy, certain state
functions have been replaced. Individuals now have the opportunity to
purchase birth control beyond the eyes of the state¡¯s appointed birth
control and local anti-epidemic station representatives. Even if the Chinese
state still enforces the one-child policy among registered Han population,
many of my young informants told me they preferred the discretion that
purchasing birth control through shops provided. This does not mean the
state cannot provide condoms to married couples and single men and women if
they choose to, just that many young people find it more convenient and
discrete to purchase them elsewhere. One friend, Xiao Mei, owns a small
pharmacy that has a large selection of condoms.
Xiao Mei who works in her parents small pharmacy, says
she sells lots of condoms, ranging in price from a couple of yuan to
expensive imported ones from Japan and England for over ten yuan each (there
were 8.4 yuan to the dollar as of August 2000). I perused these condoms,
examining the small boxes that were packaged in groups of three, ten and
twelve. Condoms were definitely part of the market economy in Jinghong: I
found condoms in plentiful supply in just about every small pharmacy and
hotel convenience shop. Not only were condoms sold in these small
establishments but also the men who frequent the brothels in Jinghong also
purchase them. While conducting follow-up fieldwork in the summer of 2000,
I discovered Jinghong had an even wider variety of condoms available at the
small pharmacies and a much more visible presence of STD clinics that
provided health care practitioners to treat STDs than three years earlier.
What had changed in my three-year absence was a growing awareness that the
city of Jinghong had a large sexually transmitted disease problem on its
By the summer of 2000, Jinghong also had its very own new
sex shop that catered to the town¡¯s many sex tourists. In speaking with
Xiao Wang, the owner, a young woman in her early thirties, she said they
opened in May and that she was trying to make good quality condoms available
on the local market. Her shop included condoms made by joint ventures, such
as those between Germany and China, and condoms that were manufactured in
China that cost anywhere from a couple of yuan to twenty-yuan for a packet
of three. In Xiao Wang¡¯s opinion the foreign condoms were of a higher
quality than the Chinese varieties. This was reflected in the packaging of
condoms in general. A brand called ¡°strong man¡± (nanzihan)
¡°ultra thin¡± (xiangxing chaobao), with ¡°family taste in mind¡± (jiating
zhuang) had a picture of a white couple on the box.[vii][vii]
Whiteness here can be read as a sign of sexual knowledge. There was a
general perception that white people knew how to have sex, where whiteness
was a sign of the erotic (see Schein 1994). Whiteness here also
represents the new ways that desire is marketed. The images on these condom
boxes did not suggest tastefully dressed Han women wandering through a park,
but they depicted pleasurable, romantic encounters between white
If condoms are readily available through private
drugstores, hotels and sex shops, then what can be done about promoting the
use of condoms as a means of to prevent the spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS?
What Should be Done?
A second question is what should be done to stave off a
Thailand-like epidemic inside China? There are efforts currently underway
in China, and particularly in Yunnan, to prevent the further spread of
AIDS. Two of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that I worked with,
the Save the Children Foundation (SCF) and the Australian Red Cross, have
been at the forefront of prevention campaigns in Yunnan. The Australian Red
Cross, with the assistance of Yan Hailin, Li Guozhi, Ann Mehaffey, and
Audrey Swift, conceived an impressive peer education and training program.
This training program aimed to bring middle-school, high school and college
youth together to comprehend the basic parameters of risk, as well as the
basic ways to prevent the transmission of AIDS. The Peer Education Program,
where I assisted as both a survey worker and trainer in Menglian County,
Kunming and Jinghong cities, is currently educating and training a small new
cadre of youth, to conduct peer education trainings about sex, drugs and
AIDS throughout Yunnan, and in parts of Sichuan.
The second peer education project was organized by Save
the Children Foundation through the initial assistance and expertise of
Doctor Nagib Hussein, in conjunction with Drs. Li Jianhua and Li Xiaoliang,
and now Cao Hong. The prevention project has been well received by middle
schools throughout Yunnan. Although the original trainings for the
Australian Project were quite tedious due to the lack of Mandarin language
skills by the Australian¡¯s coordinator for the project, Dr. Hussein, who
studied medicine as a guest of the Chinese government in the mid-1980s in
Shanghai, had an intimate understanding of the China and Mandarin Chinese.
With these two projects, there has been a outgrowth in cooperation between
the Chinese government and international NGOs in AIDS prevention. What has
been crucial in developing these two projects has been the qualitative
research, including my own ethnographic research in setting the groundwork
for developing these outreach trainer programs. Without a clear
understanding of the ethnographic context and exactly what sex workers do in
their daily practice, effective prevention is unattainable. As a public
health worker, I cannot emphasize enough that programs need to be location
and dialect specific, addressing the specific locality and the local
cultural norms. Preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS is never easy,
however, one way to understand what prevention techniques might work is to
ask one¡¯s informants. What exactly do sex workers themselves say works, or
In the languid days and warm nights I spent with Madam
Liu and her staff, Xiao Zhu, Xiao You and Xiao Zhang, I recognized just when
and where they would take precautions against HIV/AIDS. They placed AIDS
firmly on the bodies of foreigners, white foreign bodies, and occasionally,
they mentioned that they would not service Pakistani or Burmese men who
worked in Jinghong. They too might have AIDS. While condoms are plentiful
in Xishuangbanna, it seems, according to my friend, Xiao Liu, a pharmacist
in Jinghong, that her male customers purchase cheap condoms and her female
prostitute customers the expensive ones. When I asked prostitutes about
this, they said they had more faith in the expensive brands, and that the
Japanese and British condoms were the best. However, the underlying problem
in all of these situations is that men, I am told Chinese men especially, do
not like to use condoms.
Whereas in many countries across the globe condom use is
still highly controversial, it often goes against the grain of cultural
norms and sexual conduct, China, I dare say, is not one of them. The Maoist
regime of birth regulation has made birth control a part of everyday life in
China. Today it is just a question of what kind or what brand of birth
control. This statement leads to a second intervention. If the Chinese
state added condoms to their armamentarium of state sponsored birth control
options then, condoms would begin to be more accepted and more readily
available, for everyone. More important, mere distribution and
accessibility of condoms is not enough. In drawing to a close, I wish to
reveal some of my informants¡¯ suggestions for AIDS education and
Madam Liu wanted the police not to presume that just because a young women
was carrying a condom, she was a prostitute, and therefore not
entitled to protect herself. Accomplishing this would require educating the
local police force and gaining their permission to allow sex workers to
carry and distribute condoms.
Dr. Yang, a psychiatrist a the Yunnan Drug Institute, suggested that the
hotels in all major cities could provide free condoms to their customers,
like putting mints on the bed covers at night. This would require the
education and cooperation of the local tourist bureaus. I have spoken to
many hotel owners in Jinghong who would be amenable to this practice.
Tourist agencies could be enlisted to distribute information about STDs and
HIV through the promotional material that they provide male tourists with
about their services.
Since the local drug stores and in particular the sex shops, do not often
have any idea about the expiration date of their condoms, there needs to be
quality controls set up to monitor how condoms are distributed and sold.
begin working closely with the madams and owners of hair salons/brothels on
the importance of educating their employees about safer sex practices. A
longer-range goal would be to change the actual behavioral norms so that
condom use among male clients would be considered the norm rather than the
exception for all sexual transactions. In addition, alliances could be made
with successful outreach and prevention projects in places like Chiangmai
northern Thailand, or with Pink Triangle in Malaysia, to allow Chinese
public health projects to gain from the experience other countries in
Southeast Asia. A train the trainers approach could incorporate trained sex
worker educators that would enlist local sex workers in educating their
peers about prevention (see Cianna Stewart 1999)
To conclude I would like to comment on the local climate of
police surveillance of sex workers and some of the obstacles to effective
prevention. The local government officials in Jinghong vary widely in terms
of their general attitudes about sex work, sex workers and HIV/AIDS. There
is currently just as much a desperate need for education programs for the
local police as there is for clients of sex workers. If most of the people
in China with HIV are men, then there needs to be more of a focus on them,
and not just the female sex workers. Overt emphasis on women means that sex
workers are doubly burdened to perform and generate income, and make sure
both they and their partners are protected. In terms of surveillance in
Jinghong, sex workers do get randomly arrested and turned over to the local
police, where they are often driven north into Simao County and left
there. However, as one police officer said, ¡°like a poisonous weed¡±, sex
workers merely return to Jinghong and their work. While yanda
campaigns have targeted brothels, it often means the hair salons/brothels
close down for a few days and then re-open once the yanda has
passed. In addition, many police in Jinghong would like to make
prostitution quasi-legal and have the opportunity to regulate it as in the
state of Nevada in the western United States. Other cities, like Tianjin,
in China have begun to tax prostitution again, and this is one option for
the police in Jinghong. However, the obstacles for prevention of HIV do not
solely reside under the jurisdiction of the local police, it appears that
the main obstacles for self protection of sex workers in Jinghong our
individual customer¡¯s attitudes -- the fact there is no norm for condom
use, even if there is large market for condoms. In order to change this
situation major campaigns for condom use and sexual health need to be
presented in a tasteful way to the clients that use these salons. Condoms
need to make a more visible presence in the salons, and not just remain
hidden in small drawers in back rooms.
Finally, in closing I would like to emphasize that all these
efforts to curb the spread of AIDS inside China, require practitioners and
public health professionals to see AIDS as something that defies borders,
ethnic groups, and identity politics within a post-socialist state.
Without neglecting to take into account that the market and cultural
politics play an integral role in how people function in their everyday
lives, AIDS prevention could work. To really build on the everyday
practices of AIDS means to take flight, to understand that
epidemics are not grounded in one people, or one place, they do not respect
the lines on a map. In this paper, I have presented one view of the
contemporary sex work industry in southwest China looking toward the
politics of sex work and the socialist state in transition with an eye on
workable prevention techniques.
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There is a vast literature on prostitution in feminist theory, gender
studies, and anthropology. Some notable texts that were of assistance
in thinking through the issues at hand that address diverse social
science interpretations of sex work include the following texts.
Fr¨¨d¨¨rique Delacoste and Priscilla Alexander's book Sex Work
(1987) was a groundbreaking work that was the first book to include the
voices of sex workers themselves in everything from the writing through
the production process. In contrast, a more recent work by Ryan Bishop
and Lillian Robinson Night Market (1998) actually reinforces the
idea that sex workers have no agency, that sex work is an entirely
dependent economy, subject to the nefarious whims of global capitalism.
Another recent book by Kamala Kempadoo and Jo Doezema, Global Sex
Workers (1998) builds on the arguments presented in Alexander and
Delacoste¡¯s earlier work. However, Kempadoo and Doezema manage to
paint a global canvas; we hear the voices of women organizing for better
protection and rights across the globe from the Netherlands to Japan and
Taiwan. In Anthropology several works are notable. Most recently,
Angie Hart¡¯s Buying and Selling Power: Anthropological Reflections
on Prostitution in Spain (1998). Hart presents a phenomenological
view of power, where clients, sex workers and anthropologists all have
key roles to play in the power nexus in the world of prostitution. Hart
argues that to examine one of those groups without examining the others
creates a false impression of a very complex sexual economy. Cleo
Odzer¡¯s The Patpong Sisters (1994) is remarkable for its
often-controversial stories about an American anthropologist conducting
fieldwork in the underworld of illegal prostitution in Thailand.
Another more classic study of prostitution is Luise White¡¯s
ethnography, The Comforts of Home (1990), about prostitutes in
colonial Nairobi. A special issue of Social Text edited by Anne
McClintock (1993) explored the current debates in several academic
fields on sex work and sex workers. Turning to contemporary studies of
Chinese prostitution, sexologist Pan Suiming who writes extensively on
contemporary Chinese prostitution recently published Existing in
Falsehoods: An Investigation of China¡¯s Underground Sex Industry
(1999). Gail Hershatter, a Chinese historian, wrote Dangerous
Pleasures (1997), a phenomenal book on the history of prostitution
during Republican era Shanghai. Elizabeth Remick (1997), a political
scientist, is currently conducting research in Guangdong province on the
relationship between Chinese state building projects during the
Republican Era and the rise in prostitution taxes. Remick argues that
much of the state projects in Canton around the turn of the century were
funded through a tax on prostitution.
Cianna Stewart, a former outreach coordinator at the Asian Wellness
Project (formerly the Asian AIDS Project), spoke to students in my
Women¡¯s Studies course ¡°Sexuality, Prostitution and AIDS,¡± about some
of the prevention tactics she learned from the prostitutes working on
the streets of San Francisco (June 1999).
In the section on the hair salon, all of the names used are
pseudonyms. I have used terms of respect, taking a person¡¯s
fictitious family name and placing old (lao) or young (xiao)
in front of it. In order to protect my informant¡¯s identities, I have
created some names that are pseudonyms of several people's names.
I should point out that my daily dealings with the women and the spatial
divisions in the salon circumscribed men in the salon. I had access to
the hair salon in the front room but rarely went into the back room with
the massage tables. This had as much to do with my exercising respect
for the women while they were working, as it did with my reticence to
enter the forbidden space of prostitution. None of the women working
would enter the back room unless they had a customer. Because much of
the time I spent at the New Wind Beauty Salon was during their working
hours, I did not often go into the back room --- the space where massage
and sex work took place.
Personal communication with Dr. Emile Fox, Chief of UNAIDS, Beijing,
August 8, 2000.
Elizabeth Remick (1997) argues that during the Republican era in some
areas tax revenues from the prostitution were as high as fifty-percent.
See also Li Xuezhong, Yunnan gonganzhi, Kunming: Yunnan renmin
chubanshe, November 1996.
Strong man condoms (nanzihan) are manufactured in Beijing by the
Ailunsi Health Care Products Limited. Contrary to many
domestically produced condoms the package had an expiration date stamped
on the box.