It doesn’t take much to see that the sex industry is rife in Shanghai. There are few streets that you can walk down in this city without seeing the pink glow of a “massage parlour” or worse, being accosted by someone offering you sexual services. A few months ago we showed you this excellent film from Laura Ling on Current TV about sex workers in China, and it seems that Chinese women who are involved in ‘the oldest profession’ are not only prevalent here, but are also flooding the industry overseas. In her book Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labour, released today, Hsiao-Hung Pai exposes the plight of illegal Chinese workers in the UK, and yesterday The Guardian (who are serialising the book) printed an extract about Chinese migrants’ role in the sex industry.
The Taiwan-born author has written extensively about migrants working illegally in Britain (the second extract is about smuggler gangs), often working undercover in a whole host of industries, with her revelations at times reminding Shanghaiist of the harrowing and gripping tales related in Xinran’s The Good Women of China. The extract concerning the UK’s sex industry and its use of Chinese migrants contains some startling figures:
“There are more than 600 Chinese parlours in London alone — half the number of Chinese takeaways in the capital”
“There are something like 3,000 undocumented Chinese women working in the sex trade in Britain, according to massage-parlour owners I spoke to. The majority are in their 30s and 40s, with a child or children in China. They have never worked in the sex trade before, and did not plan to. What motivates them is the need to earn fast to pay off their borrowings and to improve the living standards of their families at home. Most stay in the job for two to three years, then return to China”
A lot has been written about China’s booming sex industry and its links to the explosion in HIV/Aids cases in the country, as well as about the trafficking of young Chinese girls — both within China and to other countries such as Thailand — to work in brothels. Until now, however, there has been little exploration of this issue in Europe or the US, and Hsiao-Hung Pai’s piece not only makes for an engrossing read, but also sheds welcome light on this international issue.
The Guardian: Sex workers extract
The Guardian: Smuggler gangs extract
Penguin: Chinese Whispers by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Zhong Wei: A Close Look at China’s Sex Industry
AVERT: HIV & Aids in China
UNAIDS: China site