[Documents menu] Documents menu

China's Prostitution Capital Stirred, not Shaken by Vice Crackdown

Agence France Presse, 18 December 2000

SHENYANG, Dec 18, 2000—(Agence France Presse) The policeman watches the disappearing backs of two tall beautiful Chinese girls as they walk hand-in-hand with older men out of the lift of the five star hotel.

They are definitely hookers. You can tell by the way they were standing, officer Bai said after the lift doors close.

But Bai makes no attempt to stop the girls. It would only create unnecessary hassle, he says.

Shenyang, an industrial town in icy north-eastern China, was once the jewel in communist China's state-planned economy. Now the city is more famous as a center for the world's oldest profession.

Blonde girls from Belarus and tall Manchurian models stalk the corridors of the city's hotels, and saunas and massage parlors glitter with neon on every other street corner after dusk falls.

Shenyang now has 5,225 places of entertainment, saunas, massage parlors, dance halls, nightclubs and baths for its six million people -- more than Beijing which has double the population.

The city has become notorious in China for the numbers of call girls thronging its hotel lobbies and the brothels which have mushroomed as ailing state-owned enterprises shut their doors.

Business has been slower and the girls have been keeping a lower profile since government leaders in Beijing launched a strike hard campaign on July 1 to combat drugs, illegal gambling and rampant prostitution across the country.

Chinese police estimates place the number of prostitutes in China at around four million in addition to the 18 million women, of the average age of 23, who are part of a floating population roaming the country in search of better jobs and incomes.

Businessmen in Shenyang said the city's hotel lobbies were not as full of girls waiting for an evening's business as they were a few months back.

At Camp David, a three-story entertainment complex in the center of the city with bowling, restaurants, dance halls, baths and saunas that is frequented by some of the city's best looking women, business has also been slow in recent months.

We have to be much more careful now because the police watch what we do. There are no prostitutes here tonight, said the receptionist at one of the establishment's saunas, who asked for her business not to be identified.

But local police said it was only a matter of time before the tide of vice begins to turn and trade flows back in.

Since many of the city's state-owned enterprises closed their doors and laid off hundreds of thousands of workers, prostitution has become a mainstay of the city's economy.

Bai, a thirty-year old police officer who works with the city's crime squad, said law enforcement manpower is too limited to continue the anti-vice drive indefinitely.

The police cannot go on like this forever and they cannot control the problem, because it is rooted in Chinese society. You had this in feudal times and you have it again now that people have a bit more money, he explains.

By March or April next year, police will have to turn their attention to combating widespread piracy and counterfeiting trade which also forms a large part of the city's black economy.

Shenyang has far more stalls selling pirated compact discs (CDs) or video CDs than in either Beijing or Shanghai.

Law enforcement goes in waves. First we look at one problem and then we look at another. Now it is prostitution but in a few months we'll be cracking down on piracy, but we can't do both at the same time, Bai adds.

Furthermore, it is no surprise that Shenyang and Dalian, remote cities in Chinese freezing north-east which are nearer Russia than Hong Kong, have such flourishing night lives.

Beijing is China's capital so the situation cannot be too extreme but in Shenyang prostitution is much more widespread, he said.

For the girls, the reasons remain economic. Sacha, a pretty 24-year-old blond who studies Chinese in Shenyang and waits for men to buy her drinks in hotel bars after dark, said there were more opportunities in China.

There is no money in Russia. You can get jobs, but there is very little money so I will stay here at least another year, she says with a grimace.

Officers like Bai have better things to do that round up the Russian girls working Shengyang's bars.

We know a lot of Russian girls come in on short-term tourist visas to work but we don't arrest them. There's a language barrier and you would need a translator, Bai said with a shrug.

It would just be too much trouble, he adds.