Modernizing Sex, Sexing Modernity: Prostitution in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai

Gail Hershatter

in Chinese Femininities/Chinese Masculinities

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2002 | ISBN: 9780520211032
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520935303 | DOI:
Modernizing Sex, Sexing Modernity: Prostitution in Early-Twentieth-Century Shanghai

Show Summary Details


This chapter discusses the concept of prostitution in early-twentieth-century Shanghai. In early-twentieth-century Shanghai, prostitution was variously understood as a source of urbanized pleasures, a profession full of unscrupulous and greedy schemers, a site of moral danger and physical disease, and a marker of national decay. It was also a painful economic choice on the part of women and their families, since it was sometimes the best or only income-producing activity available to women seeking employment in Shanghai. This chapter investigates how the changing figure of the prostitute performed important ideological work in elite discussions, particularly as the prostitute was transformed into a victimized, disorderly, dangerous embodiment of social trouble. This transformation, and the regulatory regimes it generated, had multiple consequences for the daily lives, identities, and actions of Shanghai prostitutes. Furthermore, it presents six approximations of Shanghai prostitution, drawn from guidebooks and the press in the first four decades of the twentieth century.

Keywords: prostitution; early-twentieth-century Shanghai; urbanized pleasure; social trouble; national decay

Chapter.  12032 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Anthropology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.