Working Girls: Commercial Sex In A Chinese Boomtown

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Book Review

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Reviews the book, Migration, Prostitution, and Human Trafficking: The Voice of Chinese Women by Min Liu. This book offers an account of the experiences of young women in the sexual services industry in Shenzhen, a Special Economic Zone adjacent to Hong Kong. China’s unprecedented economic growth after 1978 produced drastic rural–urban inequality, a “floating population” of some 140 million rural-to-urban migrants searching for livelihoods, and rampant materialism. As Liu documents, an explosion of commercial sex services and female prostitution followed on the heels of these changes. The core of Liu’s work is interviews with 40 women engaged in selling sexual services, as well as with some law enforcement officers and managers and owners of businesses that sold sexual services. Drawing from these interviews, Liu paints a picture of the pushes and pulls that drew young women into sex work, as well as benefits that kept them there. Few of these women were victims of trafficking; that is, they were not forced, tricked, or coerced into prostitution; most were under no external duress to continue. Their motives included ambition, opportunism, the need to help their families, and a desire for luxury goods. Selling sexual services offered easy money; the alternatives paid a pittance and often involved grueling physical labor. Liu’s account contradicts the simplistic idea that brute force, outright deception, and victimization are always involved in prostitution. At the same time, it demonstrates how societal structures, economic conditions, and cultural values shape individual agency and choice.


This work is a review of "Migration, Prostitution, And Human Trafficking: The Voice Of Chinese Women" by M. Liu.

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