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Prostitution in China – Part I

Barbershop Girls

Welcoming pink lights of barbershops

This kind of venues you can find in any big city of China. Located near a train or subway station they can be recognized by characteristic pink lighting, a sign in English saying “massage” and several scantily dressed and visibly bored girls sitting inside.

Though often presented as barber shops, if you notice more bare legs than anything else, you can be sure that customers go there not for a hair cut.

Among different kinds of brothels barber shops (or simply BBS) and massage parlors are maybe the easiest to recognize as such. But they are not the only nests of prostitution in China. Prostitutes work at all levels: from poorest villages to most exquisite hotels, and from openly soliciting clients in the street to being given as a gift to business partners.

In 1996 Shanghai police defined 7 distinct tiers of prostitution in China. Though it does not cover all spectrum of sex trade in the country, this classification has been widely adopted not only by law-enforcement bodies but also by sociologists and other researchers of prostitution. In this post (which will be the first part from the series of articles on prostitution in China) I will describe these tiers basing on the Master’s Thesis of Nick Doherty.

Shanghai Brothels

Little black stars are different brothels that were spotted by Nick Doherty in Jiading District of Shanghai. Possibly there were many more which he didn't discover. Warning: this map is from 2006 - don't use it for reference ;-)


Second wives (ernai)

The top tier comprises mistresses or “second wives” (èrnăi, 二奶), though some could argue whether they should be classified as prostitutes. To make the distinction more clear it’s important to underline that I am talking about contracted mistresses who get a monthly fee from steady clients in exchange of sex and guarantee of exclusivity. The “contract” doesn’t include romance or family life although some of these mistresses dream of a day when they could become a real concubine or even wife in which case they might ask for no financial rewards.

Contracted wives (baopo)

Second tier refers to women who are hired to accompany business partners or other influential guests during their business trips or other activities. They offer similar service as er nai, but for a shorter period of time. It’s this kind of prostitution that was linked to bribes and corruption in China.

Escort girls (peinu)

Escort girls and KTV hostesses are what the third tier is about. They are quite popular in metropolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing where one can find rich businessmen ready to pay hundreds and even thousands RMB just to have a chat with sexy woman. Actually, the owners of KTVs and bars do not require from their female employees to provide sexual services to clientele. The only requirement is to make the customers order expensive drinks / snacks and keep them happy so that they would want to come back again. In many cases, however, if man is interested in sex and flashes the cash, KTV girl will go to his place.

KTV hostess

KTV “xiaojie” (literally “miss” in Chinese) are usually classy girls: young, attractive, having some singing abilities and able to engage in light conversation. They are often called “san pei xiaojie” – “three accompaniment girls” – meaning that the accompany men drinking, dancing and singing.

Hotel girls (dingdong xiaojie)

Fourth tier consists of dingdong girls (dingdong xiaojie, 叮咚小姐) who rent themselves rooms in hotels and through internal hotel telephone seek for potential clients among male guests. If man shows interest, the girl will come to his room and knock on door or press the doorbell (and this is the reason for “dingdong” name).

This niche is often occupied by university female students.

Barbershop girls (falangmei)

Barbershop girls and their “colleagues” from massage parlors, saunas and similar establishments constitute the fifth tier of prostitution. Even in the venues that serve as the cover for prostitution some of the girls combine sex trade with non-sexual services, like washing hair, washing feet and giving massage. As mentioned above, these are the most visible prostitutes in China. Most of them are coming from countryside and are totally dependent on their employers. Usually they are paid some low basic salary and their income directly depends on the number of clients served during day. Probably, they make most money in this industry but are also required to do the most tiring and degrading things.

And now we come down to the two lowest tiers.

Street hookers (jienu)

The sixth layer is all about street girls, or streetwalkers who solicit their customers outside of hotels, bars and other recreational places. Unlike in Western countries, Chinese streetwalkers usually work without pimps . Most of these girls in the past had been working in the upper tiers but after being dejected from other establishments try to earn money themselves. Often they combine prostitution with a regular daytime job.

Street prostitute

This picture was taken publicly in the center of Wuhan. Female was making "massage" to a male customer. Cost of the service was 2.5$. From the archives of Pan Suiming, founder of Institute of Sexuality and Gender (2005)

Down the work shack (xiagongpeng)

In the last tier one can find “women who live in a shed”. These are women who offer their services to poor migrant workers. Due to different reasons (like old age) they cannot attract other men and are ready to make a deal for as little as a bowl of soup. In certain sense they are a “socially necessary phenomenon” filling the sexual void for millions of males who left their wives in home villages and not being able to endure the loneliness turn to prostitutes. Sometimes they function as public wives in a small community of migrant workers co-working with them in the daytime and sharing bed at nights.


In the next part of this series I will write about the magnitude of prostitution in China and its role in Chinese economics.

Crystal Tao

  • WanderingAmerican

    Holy cow! :shock: Those last 2 categories are serious business! The thought of someone being a public wife grosses me out to the max. I’m sure the chances that they use protection is pretty slim as well. A bunch of dudes getting it with one chick in a short amount of time? Sounds like a “soup kitchen” to me.

    • Jeff

      Well yes, one “public” wife to many Chinese men is a naturally conclusion when you have a) a female shortage b) abandonment of girl foetuses (or being given up for foreign adoption) and c) hordes of white men marrying Chinese women. Don’t think for a second white men aren’t partially to blame here.

  • ziccawei

    No, Crystal, you are wrong. There is no prostitution in China.

    • jack

      who said there are no?i am in china right now…i have seen pros all over,streets,clubs,ktv,small massage center,hotels,i just came here before 4 months ago and found more than 30 places to get pros… and the price starts from 100rmb.handjob 30rmb,blwjob 50rmb..even u can bargain(best part of chinese business).

      • Vladimir Putin

        So Why complain? Prostitution is good… Here in My fucking shit country Sweden its illegal and now we are no 2 in the world in rapes but thats Also becourse we got so many new Swedes from arab countrys since someone had to start some wars there…

  • Ian G

    Here is an interesting, if rather sad link to some news item…

    I quote here one paragraph which I find bemusing “He also said the women had wrecked many marriages and that police had received numerous complaints from wives of men who sought their services.”

    I find it ludicrous that Asian men cannot find fault in themselves. If they didn’t want to screw around, then there wouldnt be any hookers… Ok this is in Malaysia, but we have all seen the reports of bar girls being rounded up in china, heard the stories.. seen the so called “men” of china cry victim… all my sympathy is for the hookers, even though I have never used or desired one… no sympathy for the kiddies that are supposed to be men in these Asian countries..

    • Crystal

      To second your comment I want to share another article.

      Whenever we read about the different reports with the crackdown on prostitution < ...> there is always a series of documenting pictures printed, showing the “successful” roundup of alleged prostitutes at the different venues – a kind of shocking visual that serves as a trophy for how the much paraded police operations have turned up fruitful. But it was always the hostesses and alleged prostitutes that were caught on film, rarely are the managers and owners of the different clubs shown, and never were those with true ranks and power that serve as protective umbrellas for the pimping operations exposed. In this regard, the pompous raids on nightclubs and raucous roundup of hostesses are but a show that targeted and bullied the lowest ranks of sex trade business; it may be alright for those that like to look righteous but in reality the raids haven’t really achieved anything.

    • Jeff

      Your singling out of Asian men in particular is incredibly hypocritical. There are brothels and illegal escort services staffed by trafficked immigrants (usually asian women!), used without resistance by white men in America and Europe… when the raids do happen (rarely), the white men caught are all “wasn’t me, I’m off now” attitude… they are never charged, yet the trafficked girls always end up in the locker. You are quick to demean such men in Asian countries, but what about the men in white countries who do EXACTLY THE SAME?

      • 3Jewels

        You do realize China has the largest prostituion industry in the world, right? One that dates back to pre-Han times.  One that was rampant in Republican Shanghai before the revolution and frequented by Chinese literati. The Chinese government officials keep the most mistresses. Hong Kong is the central impetus behind the alleged 500,000 er nais in Shenzhen and Lai Changxing bribed his way to the Standing Committee of the Politburo with his Red Mansion brothel in Fujian. None of this has to do with immigrants or white men. It has to do with a legacy of concubinage, misogyny, and especially social inequality fueled by poor migrant populations struggling in big cities. Do some research before you make such brazenly inaccurate claims.

        • Kieran Tsao

          Wow, I like how you completele ignored what Jeff said about the problem in white countries. And to be fair you could almost replace word for word with American, British etc…. just pay attention to American news, politicians use prostitutes all the time. And the industry has been going on since the formation of America.

          And I have to laugh at the “legacy”…. you realise in the white world women are STILL campaigning for equality, pay, conditions etc…? Sexual discrimination and assault, rape and paedophilia litter white press on a daily basis. And I’ve done research… I live in a white country.

        • Nishi Hundan

          Tell us more, 3Jewels, you fat loser

  • ziccawei

    I hope A Chinese Female gives us a dozen paragraphs about her feelings on this topic.

    I’m sure, like me, that she thinks there is no prostitution in China.

    • Elijah

      No Ziccawei, you’ve got it wrong….

      There is prostitution in china, but only because of the capitalist running-dogs from LaoWaiGuo who come in and seek to destabilize china by creating disharmony.

      One of the most insidious of these measures is to entrap innocent young blossoms into a life of immorality just like in LaoWaiGuo and from there it’s only a small nudge into full-blown diseased prostitution.

      The men in china are completely family-centric right? Just like everyone says… RIGHT? I mean the… um… Confucian values…. Ancient… thingies… something right?

      Please someone, take over with the excuse….

    • Phil B

      Having talked to plenty of Chinese girls on QQ, I have to say that a lot of them have absolutely no idea what goes on in their own country :shock: .

  • GentleGiant

    I still have the card slipped under my hotel door one afternoon; the hotels HAVE to be in on it, the security camera for the hall was mounted right next to my door.

    I thought it was quite funny, it was a Chinese business hotel and even the hookers had business cards with their name and the services offered printed on them.

    To be honest, I have led a sheltered life, and it took me a while to figure out what the card was about; it was looking at my GF’s reaction that gave it away.

    Before you ask why I kept the card, I consider it a souvenir, something to remember the trip by, same as I keep plane and train tickets, and my electronic ski pass, even though it meant I didnt get my €5 deposit back.
    Unlike my ski pass, I dont use it as a book mark though, too great a chance one of the children will notice and ask about it.

    • Kevin

      It’s not just hotels; I get 3 or 4 of that type of business cards through my door each week, in a normal apartment complex in Beijing.

  • adann

    Without demand there is no supply. Men from all walks of life need sex and are willing to pay for it due to various reasons.

  • Ian G

    I have stayed in numerous hotels around china, many times I am asked at the hotel reception if I want a girl for the night/hour/whatever… some rooms have nice little perspex display stands filled with condoms, various items of whatever (I dont bother looking) and brochures advertising girls… sometimes in permanent residence a few rooms away from mine.

    Yep! brochures written in English and chinese, with some great pics too… must be for the westerners only… of course the chinese men wouldnt dream of going for it now would they!

    Funny thing happened once.. I was asked if I wanted “Singha” (well, thats what it sounded like) so I said “yes” of course.. I was a bit more naive in those days… (Singha is a Thai beer, and I like it).

  • Righteous American

    I think that this industry has potential, much potential. However, giving sidewalk hand-jobs to guys in beach chairs is not the way to go about it. Keep it classy China.

  • MinhangMongerMaster

    I spent this very afternoon chillaxing on a couch in a barbershop, enjoying myself a couple of beers, watching TV and chatting with the mamasan. I could write pages on the topic of barbershops, and perhaps someday I shall- but not today.

    The above list leaves out a relatively new class of prostitution: Apartment girls. These are women (who may have normal day jobs) that rent an apartment and take incall (incall = you go to meet her, outcall = she goes to meet you) johns. Whereas standard Shanghai price to penetrate a barbershop girl is RMB150 of which she may keep RMB50, an AG may charge you RMB300, offering you a more relaxing environment with better customer service (i.e. a full sized bed instead of a padded bench with damp spots, shower before/after) plus she keeps the entire fee for herself. If she builds up a list of regular customers she comes out far ahead in very little time, without all usual worries about getting raided by police.

    In a larger residential complex these women will be effectively invisible as an estate with 1500+ apartments will easily have over twice that many residents.

  • GentleGiant

    The hotel I was staying in was for Chinese businessmen, I cant even find a review for it that is not written in Chinese, and I know that foreigners staying there was unusual from the looks I got every time I went to reception (goggle eyes).

    I wonder what the girls reaction would have been if I had opened the door? Instead of some old Chinese dude with the standard Chinese “micro attachments”, there was a 2 metre tall, white dude built like a tank and packing 8″ (circumference, not length!! :mrgreen: )

    • Moroes

      They will refuse you. They can refuse huge sticks that can destroy their small cute little kitty kat. Some have injured their kats before and have a hard time servicing their next clients for the next days.

      And yes they have refused blacks these services very often.

      Save the kittens from these horrible mean Sperm Whales!!!!

    • Jeff

      yet more arrogance from a white man. How exactly do you know that the standard Chinese man has a “micro attachment”, unless of course you have experience in this area yourself?

  • Mark

    Dante’s Inferno had 9 circles of hell…with the inclusion of the apartment girls, we’ve got 8 levels…is there an abysmal ninth level of Chinese prostitution?

    • WanderingAmerican

      9th level is chicks who prostitute themselves for fun.

    • SamReeves



      I’m joking of course :grin:

  • Kedau

    very nice.

    the song of your article

    Candy Shop


    • Serenity

      Please refrain from making this site look like ChinaSmack.

  • hubeijames

    In my Chinese city, the color is not pink, but purple. Even less than a mile from the central business district (with the brand new McDonaldses and Wal-mart and upper tier shopping malls) you can find shops with that shining purple light advertising the services within.

    As for the apartment thing…on my university, there are several apartment blocks. One apartment used to have a brazen purple light shining out of the window in the evening…an apartment on a major provincial university openly advertising prostitution! I’m not sure if this was on of MMM’s apartment girls or a group of “masseuses/hairstylists” that happened to be living in a residential apartment on a university. Didn’t get removed until a year or two ago.

    In Hong Kong I was solicited verbally by a client scout out in the open on a major road in the fanciest part of Kowloon. “Excuse me sir? Are you looking for a pretty girl? Just looking, no charge!”

    • SamReeves

      It’s red where I am. ‘Red light’ is a bit of a cliche I know.

      Pink/purple/red…. I wonder if anyone can add any other colors?

      Perhaps we should have a color coded map made up by region.

  • Serenity

    Given how ‘in-open-view’ many of these prostitution-outlets are, why aren’t they consistently raided? Laziness? Corruption? An unofficial form of ‘let it be’?

    • Moroes

      This industry will always exist. So when its in order and under control why mess it all up?

      DO you prefer the American/European style where the whores are out in the streets looking for customers with a VIOLENT pimp keeping eye? Seeing how China has these beggars harassing people in the streets we don’t need the whores in the streets too.

      Already got harassed by shoe shiners and beggars plenty of times. Don’t need another industry running around harassing me.

  • ziccawei

    Shanghai has been majorly cleaned up of many prostitution places. There used to be the ‘barber shops’ literally everywhere. I used to work near one strip of them (which was convenient!) right in the city centre. Literally about five shops all in a row. When I think about it now it’s ridiculous. Now the same area has coffee shops and small art galleries. A significant change.
    I don’t go to bars anymore but I imagine Shanghai’s bars are still full of hookers.
    I also work at this one company and there is a ktv place right next door. As I arrive at the company at 7:00pm you can see all the girls arriving in their heels. There is a window on the first floor and everyone can see them eating their ktv outfits, slurping noodles (practice?) before starting work.

  • Insight

    Yeps so much for MMM Minhang Monger Master, I gotta say your name just made me LOL, incredibly artsy ;-) Please post some of this apartment girls in the China – Shanghai forum of Internationalsexguide! Contribute a little with fellow mongers!

  • Pasha

    Guangzhou is city where i ever stayed the most while in China. Just outside the Grand hotels & on the same path, it is difficult to walk alone, even not knowing a single word of English, girls still offer you but can’t go to your hotel room but offer you there place which could be a dangerous place coz we don’t understand chinese.

    Massage centers are almost in every street. you may enjoy a hair cut followed by a unique massage at very low price like USD 20 for an hour.

  • paul k

    when my new chinese wife and i stayed in beijing for 4 days to get my papers from my embassy to get married we stayed in one of the hanting hotels near the airport !!!

    i was very surprized to find many business cards everyday under our door with young girls offering their massage services !!!

    i had no idea china was like this i had never been there before !!!
    my wife told me to take the cards home to show my friends she was laughing i asked her why these cards and what were they for !!!

    my future wife said these girls offer massage on the cards but they really are prostitutes !!!
    the can not say this because prostitues are illegal in china she said !!! hehehe

    i know for a fact they must have had a agreement with the hotel because everytime we went out and came back more cards under our door !!!

    when i went back to beijing to go back to canada we stayed in a different hanting hotel but this one had no one put cards under our door !!!

    by the way the rooms were very reasonable i thought and very nice !!! with western toilets and cool see through shower stall into our bedroom i could lay in bed and see my sexy wife shower !!! there was apull down blid in the shower for those that want shower privacy !!! hehehe

  • fike2308

    prostitution, and other social problems are the result of capitalism being introduced into China. alot of the prostitution is headed by taiwanese criminals

    • Elijah

      Thanks for clearing that up.

      Here’s your wu mao.


    • Antibeast

      Prostitution, and other social problems are the result of gangsterism being introduced into China: most of the prostitution rackets are run by corrupt officials.

    • Brett Delong

      So there was no prostitution until capitalism rolled around? Really?

  • 3Jewels

    yes clearly white men are to blame for prostitution in China. White men marrying Chinese girls are why old women in migrant labor camps set up sheds to please the workers. Who are likely a generation away from who your ‘white men’ are marrying anyway. You’re a moron

  • Alexm

    A ridiculous statement. How many white men in China in comparison to Chinese men?

    As stupid as two fleas arguing over the dog they are biting imho…

    • Kieran Tsao

      It is part of the problem though, isn’t it? The one child policy, gender balance, etc aren’t helping obviously… but white men marrying eligible, fertile young asian women then exporting them (yes, they do treat it like that) back to their home nations for breeding purposes…. it deprives the race of children, and that is exactly the intention of white men who target east asia for the women.

  • Ausie Andy

    What a shame most people speak down at the working girl’s.
    They have feelings, dreams and desire’s just like anyone else.
    Give them a break. Show some respect to a fellow human being, no matter what level you consider her to be on.

    • Kieran Tsao

      Do you take these feelings into account and “respect your fellow human being” when you, and millions of white men who visit Asia for such purposes, are raping them in a seedy hotel, knowing full well that your economic advantage allows you this “luxury”?

  • Vladimir Putin

    You can blame all evil on the white man! Idiot…