“10-Yuan Brothels” and Sex-Worker’s Rights

In late April, a Southern Weekend (南方周末) reporter visited a “10-yuan brothel” (十元店)[zh], the most cut-rate of venues housing China’s sex-trade, often catering to China’s many lonely and poor migrant workers. The lengthy article, which has been translated by chinaSmack, tells the story of the pseudonymic Wu Xianfang, a 48 year-old migrant worker turned prostitute:

[...]In order to keep their customers coming, most of these women here don’t use condoms — not to mention these things could be evidence of prostitution. Wu Xianfang sometimes uses them, and sometimes doesn’t, and in her own words, “you can tell if they have a disease or not”, her simple standard for detection being : those whose appearances are clean probably don’t carry any diseases, but must be cautious with those who in shabbier clothes.

Wu Xianfang has never had a gynecological examination. A gynecological examination costs thirty kuai, an amount she has receive three customers and risk being caught three times to earn. When her body feels unusual, she takes a bus to the country and has an infusion called “inflammation shot”, which costs over twentykuai, is said to be penicillin, and as soon as the inflammation goes down, she immediately begins working again.

After the past five to six years, Wu Xianfang has become accustomed to this kind of life. She’s very diligent. Her “working hours” are from 8:00 in the morning to 9:30 at night and unless there’s a situation requiring her to return home, she works all year without a break. As time goes by, she’s gotten used to it, gotten numb about it, as doing this kind of work “is just like going into the fields to farm”.[...]

Set in the same squalid conditions of a “10-yuan brothel”, Paul Mooney tells the story of Ye Haiyan. Ye is an AIDS and sex-worker’s rights activist who, in effort to fully understand those whom she advocates for and the conditions in which they live, works by their side. From The Daily Beast:

Ye Haiyan, the occupant of the small room, does not look like one of the regulars here, a group that is mostly made up of older prostitutes in their 40s and 50s. Actually, Ye, 37, is a well-known advocate for the rights of sex workers and AIDS victims, and she came here in January to get a first-hand feel for the lives of the young women she’s been defending for years, and to show her compassion for the many poor men who frequent such brothels. Her commitment is such that she actually has sex with customers the way the prostitutes would.

Sitting in a small Beijing hotel room earlier this month after returning from a sex workers conference in the United States, Ye says that when she was younger, she was never biased against sex workers—feeling they were “just trying to make a living”—but at the same time, never thought much about their plight or their low position in society.

After getting a divorce from her husband, the single mother, along with her young daughter, took up an offer to stay at the home of several sex workers in 2003. It was here that she began to hear the sad stories of these young women. The experience prompted her to start a website in 2005 to speak out for sex workers.

Click through to read Ye’s entire story in The Daily Beast.

A Global Times piece from earlier this summer discusses the controversial nature of Ye’s activism.

The first time she became a sex worker was in 2009 when she was investigating the online part-time sex trade. She served about six people in a month and earned 1,500 yuan.

“It took a lot of courage,” she recalled. “Then I asked myself, if they can do it to make a living, why can’t I? I need to feel their pain and suffering.”

Many people think her behavior is “crazy and immoral.” Some support her work in general but have mixed feelings about her decision to experience it herself. But she seems determined.

Ye uses her experience to educate a society that looks down on sex-workers. She blogs under the name Hooligan Swallow (流氓燕). See her iFeng blogQQ profile, or Twitter [zh].

For more on China’s sex-trade, see prior CDT coverage.