Tag Archives: China


The expansion of Chinese activities in Africa has been accompanied by a growing number of young Chinese women migrants engaged in prostitution, transforming the red-light districts of some African cities from markets almost entirely monopolized by local sex workers into highly competitive Chinese commercial sexualized sites. In Cameroon, disgruntled local sex workers now point to a ‘Chinese sexual invasion’ and blame young Chinese women for the decline in their business. This article explores some of the remarkable tactics devised by local sex workers in Douala to deal with the ‘unfair competition’ represented by Chinese sex workers. These tactics include the production of extremist discourses that construe Chinese sex workers as economic predators, and characterize them as dangerous putes sorcières (bitch-witches). The article concludes that the pervasive idiom of occultism, embodied by the concepts of “magic body” and “cursed sex” that permeate much of the popular imagination of Chinese sex labourers in Cameroon, reflects a broader disenchantment with recent China–Africa cooperation, which is increasingly perceived as an attempt by China to control Africa’s immense natural resources under the guise of mutually beneficial relations.

Article available for free here.

“Swept Away”. Abuses against Sex Workers in China, Huma Rights Watch, 2013. 

This 51-page report documents abuses by the police against female sex workers in Beijing, including torture, beatings, physical assaults, arbitrary detentions, and fines, as well as a failure to investigate crimes against sex workers by clients, bosses, and state agents. The report also documents abuses by public health agencies, such as coercive HIV testing, privacy infringements, and mistreatment by health officials.

Boittin, Margaret (2013): New Perspectives from the Oldest Profession: Abuse and the Legal Consciousness of Sex Workers in China, in: Law & Society Review 47(2), pp 245–278. (Full paper not available)

Although prostitution is illegal, millions of women sell sex in China. In the process, they experience significant abuse and harm at the hands of clients, madams, pimps, the police, and health officials. This article examines the legal consciousness of Chinese sex workers through their interpretations of these abusive experiences. It reveals how they think and talk about them, and how their reactions sometimes translate into concrete actions. My evidence shows that sex workers name abuse as harmful, blame others for it, and occasionally make claims. They also have strong opinions about prostitution policies, and the relationship between these regulations and their experiences of abuse. These findings place scope conditions on previous theories of marginalized people and the law, which suggest that powerless individuals perceive a more peripheral role of the law in their lives. In addition, this evidence enriches our understanding of legal consciousness in China by showing how debates around the concept apply more broadly than previously recognized.

Dewey, Susan/Kelly, Patty: Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective, New York University Press 2011.

Mónica waits in the Anti-Venereal Medical Service of the Zona Galactica, the legal, state-run brothel where she works in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico. Surrounded by other sex workers, she clutches the Sanitary Control Cards that deem her registered with the city, disease-free, and able to work. On the other side of the world, Min stands singing karaoke with one of her regular clients, warily eyeing the door lest a raid by the anti-trafficking Public Security Bureau disrupt their evening by placing one or both of them in jail.
Whether in Mexico or China, sex work-related public policy varies considerably from one community to the next. A range of policies dictate what is permissible, many of them intending to keep sex workers themselves healthy and free from harm. Yet often, policies with particular goals end up having completely different consequences.
Policing Pleasure examines cross-cultural public policies related to sex work, bringing together ethnographic studies from around the world—from South Africa to India—to offer a nuanced critique of national and municipal approaches to regulating sex work. Contributors offer new theoretical and methodological perspectives that move beyond already well-established debates between “abolitionists” and “sex workers’ rights advocates” to document both the intention of public policies on sex work and their actual impact upon those who sell sex, those who buy sex, and public health more generally.