Sin City: Is Shanghai Still the Whore of the Orient?

During Shanghai’s Golden Age from the mid 1800s until the Communists took over in 1949, the city had a well-earned reputation for vice. Its very name was a synonym for dodgy dealings; if you were “shanghaied”, you were kidnapped and forced to serve as a sailor on long voyages. The city was rife with drug dens, brothels and gambling houses, and the city grew rich on the proceeds of the opium trade. Shanghai’s more graceful nicknames included the Paris of the East, but a more accurate moniker was the fruitier Whore of the Orient. But is this still the case, or has Shanghai cleaned up its act? I decided to investigate.

Anyone who visits the city or lives here for any length of time will attest to the plethora of opportunities for vice. Whether you’re a young English teacher fresh off the plane, or an older expat with a wife and kids, you’re fair game. A guy walking alone on the Bund or Nanjing Dong Lu at night will more than likely be approached by girls offering services. Antoine, a French consultant, has experienced this first hand on a number of occasions. “The first time I was propositioned on the street I was shocked, despite knowing that Shanghai is famous for prostitution. I’ve also heard of guys who have had prostitutes knock on their hotel room door. Presumably the receptionist or manager alerted them to the presence of a lone laowai.”

The KTV culture is well known as a vehicle for the sex trade. British expat Sarah has missed out on countless “work dinners” because she knew they would end in the KTV with colleagues making fools of themselves. “The last thing I want to do is watch my married co-workers being led off by KTV girls,” she says.

Sin City: Is Shanghai Still the Whore of the Orient?

Delving into Shanghai’s history throws up some interesting comparisons. Although prostitution was supposedly “wiped out” by the Communist party (yeah, right), the WHO estimates that there are four million sex workers in China today. This figure seems conservative; it’s more likely to be double or triple that. The falangmei who work in streetside “hair salons” are the most visible vice workers, and have taken the place of the “flower girls” who ruled the roost in the lilong of Old Shanghai. Some of the streets in the Old City bear names related to prostitution, including Honglangan Jie (street of the red banisters) and Hongzhuang Nong (Red Hamlet lane). There was even a Monai Nong, which means “breast pinch lane. Working girls advertised their services on signs pinned at the lane entrance, and the arrival of a new prostitute was greeted by firecrackers.

Modern Shanghai’s vice world isn’t limited to local girls. Go into any high-class bar and you’ll see Russian and Eastern European girls plying their trade with rich businessmen. The general impression is that anything can be had for a price, and corruption is rife. “Shanghai is definitely the sleaziest city I’ve ever lived in,” says Rob, an English teacher. “The assumption is that because I’m a guy, I will automatically be interested in paying for sex.”

So it seems that the Whore of the Orient lives on. However, other Chinese cities seem to be catching up, and one may already have stolen Shanghai’s crown as the queen of sleaze. The factory town of Dongguan in Guangdong Province was recently the subject of an undercover investigation into the sex trade. Now unofficially dubbed as China’s sex capital, Dongguan is just as well known for its multi-floor “saunas” as for its factories and warehouses. But thanks to Shanghai’s history as a city of sin, it will always have a place in the dubious pantheon of dodge. Bad reputations have a habit of living on. 

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Keywords: Whore of the orient Shanghai reputation of Shanghai is shanghai still whore of orient

24 Comments Add your comment

1

jim bloggs
comment|15407|0

I think Jacks comment is a load of sh%t. I think it depends where you hang out. I have been living in shanghai for several months now and never once been propositioned for sex - paid or free. Any metropolis will have its sleazy side - its called diversity and is what cities are defined by.

Apr 29, 2011 05:47 Report Abuse

2

Tapan
comment|15879|0

Do not agree...... U have them in every hotel. Foreigners need to make shure to hang "Do not disturb board" out side door, just in case u dont need one....

No harm, its available for those who needs their service...

May 13, 2011 09:08 Report Abuse

3

benT
comment|23133|0

maybe if you go looking for culture you will find it in much bigger buckets than the sex trade? "can't see the forrest for the trees....." stuff.

look for sex - you'll find it!
look for culture - you'll find it!
look fo reducation - you'll find it!

Dec 26, 2011 20:31 Report Abuse

4

joneeboyUK
comment|15408|0

I'm surprised that a Frenchman was shocked to find prostitutes in Shanghai, but at least they are not as obvious as those to be found in Paris. As for the English teacher, I don't know what country he comes from, but prostitution is rife in every UK, US and Australian. In fact, there is an apparently legal brothel immediately to the rear of the Australian national parliament.
Jack, If you think Shanghai is the worse, you sure have not been all over Asia. What about every city in Phillipines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan?
I Did not find Shanghai people to be selfish either.I found then to be friendly, polite and generous. You must be moving in the wrong circles.

Apr 29, 2011 05:52 Report Abuse

5

Mr. Martel
comment|15413|50132

Shanghai was full of prostitutes and other scam artists when I visited there for 3 days. Walking down Nanjing Lu alone, I literally got approached by prostitutes and other riff-raff every 2 minutes or so. Leaving the bar at night, I was also latched onto by 2 aggressive prostitutes who I needed to be rather firm with (lol) to get rid of.

Maybe Shanghai has less vice than other cities, the vice in Shanghai is very aggressive about selling your their services.

Apr 29, 2011 06:50 Report Abuse

6

Tapan
comment|15880|0

Bro... Knowing or unkonwingly, u had visited the right place in right time. so u found many..... They are not available all over Shnaghia all the time.
I just wonder, why I am so unlucky.....

May 13, 2011 09:12 Report Abuse

7

Chaching
comment|15429|0

I was approached twice in Beijing, twice in Hong Kong, once in Guilin, and about half a dozen times in my resident city of Chengdu. One time I was approached by a boy about 11 years old, holding one of those bubble wands, a long cylinder shaped tube filled with bubble liquid with a wand you dip into it to wave in the air and make bubbles. He asked me in Chinese if I was looking for a "little sister" and then he gestured the motions of having sex using his bubble wand. I didn't know if he was making fun of me or what, but then he reached into his pocket and gave me a business card with a picture of a girl in lingerie and a phone number. It was like 3:00 in the afternoon, so I asked him why he was not in school. He said he didn't have money. Just then a security guard from some business walked up and shewed the boy away. The boy climbed on to a scooter with two other older boys and drove away.

In Hong Kong I wanted some ice cream late in the evening, so I went to the corner store. A Chinese woman in her late 40's early 50's dressed like a normal person approached me in perfect English and said, hey are you looking for company tonight, because I've got some young girls who would like to meet you? I said no. So then she asked, well if you're interested I also have some young boys for you. Wow, I was a little shocked. I'm in my twenties and I don't look old, so I was assuming when she said "young girls or boys" she was probably talking about teenagers or even little kids. Man, there are some evil people in this world. That woman in Hong Kong, I believe is truly an evil person. It is one thing to try and make money, but it is another thing to solicit children for sex. I don't care who you are, how poor you are, what country your from. If you use children for the sex trade or you're a customer of children for sex, then you need to be publicly casturated. Slowly skinned alive would probably be more appropriate.

Apr 29, 2011 17:40 Report Abuse

8

orientexpressguy
comment|15437|0

Was asked by a family, newly arrived from Nevada to recommend a good restaurant here in Xi'an. Well, I did but the only snag is that its located next door to an Amsterdam style knocking shop! It has slit windows along the front of the shop which allows the girls to show you their wares. Reminds me of that Genesis song, Vicar of Ridley I think - " he asked her to show him her chest and she showed him her best !" Good lyrics in that one.

Apr 29, 2011 20:10 Report Abuse

9

fritz
comment|15443|46203

People... don’t you see this in every country? its for sale like any other commodity and its based on."Take it or leave it" No one force you to accept. It’s your money and they only offer the goods or services. Whatever you have for sale and how you market your product without any misleading gimmicks… DO IT.

Apr 29, 2011 23:24 Report Abuse

10

Mr. Martel
comment|15453|50132

You don't really see it in N. America, though. I've never once had a prostitute approach me back home, whereas in Shanghai it happened about 12 times in 3 days...

Apr 30, 2011 05:14 Report Abuse

11

Chaching
comment|15454|0

Mr. Martel,
Agree 100%. Prostitution is only visible in very, very few select cities in N. America. Most of the advertising has gone to the internet. It has never been thrown in my face like it has in China. As far as child solicitation goes, I'm sure it probably exists somewhere in N. America, but it is deep underground. Whereas in China, uh, yeah. Like I said earlier, selling your own body for sex is one thing, but exploiting children is completely evil.

Apr 30, 2011 08:37 Report Abuse

12

fritz
comment|15461|46203

As i said, they market it just differently. Secondly in N America you will see this less then in China as you a Native American... here they target the lonely non-Chinese not the local man who has his wife at home... unless business is bad. I have been to 26 countries and really it exists all over their target and or marketing strategy is just different. As long as man exists… there will be this trade.

Apr 30, 2011 14:54 Report Abuse

13

benT
comment|23548|0

not one approach in 12 days around people's square to the bund.
am I ugly or what??
beggars everywhere!!!!
sweetNsour - happyLemonade!!

Jan 09, 2012 15:46 Report Abuse

14

Tim
comment|15601|0

Prostition is a significant portion of China's service sector and GDP output. As much as 10% of China's GDP comes from sex, massage and escort services. No joke. Just walk down ANY Chinese street in over 160 cities. You will see several barber shops or girly bars on nearly all streets. Now, do the math. 160 cities in China with over 1 million people. Each street has one or more whack - off joints. That means that there are millions of people involved in the sex industry and also means there are literally billions of RMB being exchanged for such services. The government cannot control it and why should they? It employs so many girls and keeps men satisfied which is super important. There are WAY more boys than girls in China. Social unrest is a huge fear for the *party* and unemployment is already high as it is. Am I off base? I don't think so. Take a look for yourself if you disagree and do the math....

May 05, 2011 17:53 Report Abuse

15

AJ
comment|15741|0

Inaccurate - I suggest you travel to either Manila or Bangkok.

May 09, 2011 03:07 Report Abuse

16

zapped
comment|18564|0

you always find what you're looking for..... no matter where you are. it is rife with whatever you desire.

Jul 29, 2011 01:05 Report Abuse

17

SHFeiFei
comment|18853|0

Each to their own, I used to think that Shanghai is a sin city, but think of HK, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, even some western countries. It's everywhere. Just do the statistics, China is a big country, Shanghai's the biggest city in China which obviously holds a tremendous population both locals and foreigners. I guess that explains why there are too much here. Or maybe perhaps you just got 'lost' trying to 'find' ur way. Curiosity killed the cat.

Aug 10, 2011 05:59 Report Abuse

18

burgoon
comment|19632|0

Why do you only talk about prostitution in this article? last time i checked that wasn't the only sin. What about drugs?

Sep 15, 2011 02:37 Report Abuse

19

Blow
comment|23159|0

Because, sex is much more interesting to read about than crystal meth.

Dec 27, 2011 23:28 Report Abuse

20

madfor3
comment|19639|0

I'm living in Shanghai since 5 years and i agree with one of the posters who said it depends where you hang out. On the other hand, I also agree that it's easy to be approached by men or girls proposing certain services, but you can simply ignore it, walk straight and that's it. To be honest I'm here for such a long time that I don't pay care on those details anymore. For the rest I think shanghai is a great city for living, it's pretty safe, quite good for families.

Sep 15, 2011 04:38 Report Abuse

21

david woo
comment|20785|0

They're whores. I seen a bunch of lesbians getting into an orgy there. They all wor pantyhose and heels and didn't take them off during the el sexo. They made me watch (which was torturous) and then another girl got me off when they were having their organisms.

Oct 19, 2011 18:45 Report Abuse

22

Johny Pantsdown
comment|23423|69907

What happens to the Guy with his pants down when the police come barging in in the middle of the act of sex and takes the humiliated and discraced girls away?

Jan 04, 2012 19:38 Report Abuse

23

Jimbo
comment|29128|0

After living in Hong Kong for 2 yearsI think I have been propositioned 3 times by hookers. After 2 days in Shanghai it has happened about 15 times. So yes China is a whoremongers paradise.

Jul 02, 2012 07:15 Report Abuse

24

Rider113
comment|34006|0

In Beijing last spring at about 9PM I was walking thru Wangfujing without my gf.... I got hit on at least 8 times in 30 minutes and they were all hot....their pickup line is "hello, can I practice my English with you?" and it is spoken perfectly...

Nov 25, 2012 02:55 Report Abuse