We have always heard the stories of ducks (ya zi — 鸭子 — slang for gigolos or male prostitutes) in the city, but have never met any. “Could women really pay young men to sleep with them?”, the prudish male Shanghaiist has often wondered, curious and a touch excited that we could maybe use our God-given bed-time mediocrity to work ourselves out of poverty and get our necks above the rice-line. The Guardian seems to have recently done it’s own research into the field, although the reporter, Tom Miller, fails to admit why he was talking to the ducks.
Xiao Yu, a prostitute in his twenties who sports a tight red T-shirt with aviators atop spiked hair, is agitated: ‘I really can’t talk. This is working time.’ Xu Wen, his pimp, runs a tight ship, roaming the club, checking on his boys, ensuring that the women in the private rooms at the back are happy.
‘Women pay,’ he says, ‘to buy a duck for a few hours of chatting, drinking and flirting. If they then want to rent a hotel room for the night, the price rises.’ All the yazi in the nightclub earn as much as seven times the city’s average wage.
‘Many ducks who work here have problems at home; their parents might be divorced or they’re poor,’ says Xu. Many come from old Manchuria, where the men are tall but unemployment is high. ‘I wouldn’t say working as a duck is fun,’ Xiao Yu says. ‘I do it to pay my way through university. I’m a student at the Central Academy of Drama.’ …
Once the preserve of bored housewives, Beijing’s male prostitutes are increasingly sought after by younger women. Jenny, a 26-year-old, says she and her friends visit karaoke bars where they pay to drink, sing and play dice with attentive young men. She says: ‘My friends have white-collar jobs, except for one who’s a housewife. She’s bored of sex with her husband, so she spends his money sleeping with yazi. It’s very normal. It’s not cheating, because it has nothing to do with love; I can easily separate sex and love. I just do it for the sex.’
She describes how the first time she took a duck home they chatted, listened to music and showered before getting into bed. ‘I wouldn’t say he was a particularly skilled lover – just average, nothing special.’
We’d fit in perfectly.