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.
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 “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).