Prostitution and the Market in Women in Early Twentieth-Century Shanghai

Gail Hershatter

in Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 1991 | ISBN: 9780520069305
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520910454 | DOI:
Prostitution and the Market in Women in Early Twentieth-Century Shanghai

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This chapter discusses the living and working conditions of prostitutes in early twentieth-century Shanghai. It begins with a description of the complex class structure of prostitution and a rough estimate of the numbers of women involved, and then explores common elements in the family background and personal history of prostitutes in addition to the financial arrangements by which a woman entered a brothel. The chapter examines the brothel as a social world with its own rules, codes, and risks, and also asks how a prostitute's working life mimicked the rituals of courtship and marriage (with respect to customers) and family life (with respect to madams). Finally, it considers the “career path” of prostitutes, particularly the exit into marriage or concubinage. How permeable was the boundary around prostitution, by whom could it be crossed, and under what circumstances? The chapter concludes with some observations about the Shanghai market in women.

Keywords: China; prostitutes; prostitution; brothel; working life

Chapter.  14369 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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