It is the year of whores after all (Did BBC see this coming)? Right after the Chinese New Year holidays, China Center TV aired over the weekend its first major investigative piece of the year of the horse on the country’s “capital of sex” Dongguang and how illegal sex trade is prevalent there.
The 24-minute report featured journalists with hidden cameras going into local message parlors, sauna centers, karaoke clubs and even 5-star hotels that offer sex services. As Ye Haiyan, a sex worker turned activist put it, this is the first time that China’s state media presented prostitution as a “mature business.” For example, among some of the quality services exposed, sex workers in see-through dresses cat-walked in “beauty contests”, sometimes in front of one-way glasses, for their clients’ choosing.
The response from local officials is a major crackdown. More than 6000 police were sent to raid venues in question and 67 were arrested. The response from the public?
As of Monday, “Dongguan hang in there” was the No. 1 trending topic on China’s social media Weibo.
“Dongguan, don’t cry,” “Tonight, we are all from Dongguan” are some other popular slogans shared by thousands of netizens. Such support for Dongguan partly comes from a shifting view of prostitution among Chinese public.
Sex trade is illegal under China’s current law. “prostitution sweeps” are carried out regularly by the police force as a way to earn credit and public support. People used to hail such efforts, but no more. In fact, many netizens are making use of the CCTV report to call for the legalization of sex trade in China. Prostitution was officially banned in 1949, but started to come roaring back after the country was “opened up” in early 1980s. As many Chinese netizens commented: “It’s impossible to ban prostitution. So why not regulate it and end the sufferings of and the discrimination against sex workers?”
And Dongguan, this manufacturing hub near Hong Kong, didn’t grow into China’s “capital of sex” overnight. Believe it or not, Dongguan earned its name not only because of the scale of local sex trades, but also because of its high-quality standardized services.
Sex is a very well serious and well-organized business in Dongguan. When people say Dongguan builds an entire ISO system for sex trades, they mean it. First, there is a very transparent pricing system that covers services for customers at every spending level. Secondly, a detailed service menu is available. Customers can pick 15-30 different sex services in a standard 2-hour session.
From stripper dancing techniques, sex workers’ facial expressions, to the number of orgasms to be expected, everything on the menu has a standard. There is even a complaint/custom feedback system in place in which each sex worker is rated by her customer against these professional standards. Sex workers who are deemed to be “neglecting their work” will get a cut in pay.
Many Chinese netizens called for respect for such professionalism. In fact, they think that China’s government officials who call themselves “servants of the people” should learn from Dongguan: “These sex workers know much better of how to serve the people, and with much higher work ethics than our officials.”
In response to the exposed “beauty contests” where customers can pick up preferred sex workers, one netizen commented: “Even sex workers are elected in Dongguan, but not government officials.”
Most held that China’s state media are in no moral high ground to criticize sex workers because, as many netizens put it, “selling your body is better than selling your soul.” And selling souls is exactly what they believe journalists from China’s state media are doing everyday.
One netizen 浑水自媒体门户 commented: “Those journalists who use the discriminated group to attract eyeballs are cowards. They lack the courage to investigate real news.” And real news would be exposing the interest groups behind the sex industry. Few believe that Dongguan’s sex trade boom is able to sustain without support from local police and government.
CCTV’s “self-righteous” exposé is seen as a symbol of China’s powerful state. Those sex workers who were publicly shamed on TV are seen as symbols of the oppressed. In the eyes of many Chinese, the Sunday episode is less about crackdown on prostitution, but more about the struggle between the powerless people and a powerful state. There is little wonder that the public sides with the former.