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Red Lights

Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China

Tiantian Zheng
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Red Lights
    Book Description:

    In China today, sex work cannot be untangled from the phenomenon of rural–urban migration, the entertainment industry, and state power. In Red Lights, Tiantian Zheng highlights the urban karaoke bar as the locus at which these three factors intersect and provides a rich account of the lives of karaoke hostesses—a career whose name disguises the sex work and minimizes the surprising influence these women often have as power brokers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6820-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction Masculinity, Power, and the Chinese State
    (pp. 1-34)

    It was around 9 p.m. on a Friday night. I was sitting with hostesses in the opening hallway to the entrance of a karaoke bar in the red light district of Dalian, a leading city in Northeast China. As we were joking, laughing, and talking to each other, waiter Wang burst through the bar door and yelled, “Everyone upstairs! Fast! The police are coming this way any moment! They are raiding the karaoke bar next door now!” Hearing these words, twenty-five hostesses panicked and raced to the small dormitory room upstairs that served as their hideout whenever news about police...

  4. One Patriarchy, Prostitution, and Masculinity in Dalian
    (pp. 35-52)

    Was there competition between Dalian men and Japanese men? My interviewees denied that they felt competition with Japanese businessmen, but a client confided to me that once when a karaoke bar hostess curried favor with his poor Japanese business partner but ignored him, he felt so emasculated that he immediately applied for an American passport. The access to an American passport symbolized for him a higher status than the Japanese businessman. Other stories also confirmed the competition.

    Why would Chinese businessmen define their masculinity against Japanese models? How did their long history of subordination to Japanese authority contribute to this...

  5. Two From Banquets to Karaoke Bars: A New Sexual Awakening
    (pp. 53-78)

    In Dalian today, it is difficult and unusual to find entrepreneurs and officials who are building business networks and negotiating contracts without engaging in entertainment offered in karaoke bars. Helen Siu and Wang Gan both argue that these sites in China provide the necessary networks in a post-Mao society where civic organization is lacking.¹ Entrepreneurs and officials alike routinely partake in the “coordinated sequence”(yitiaolong fuwu)that consists of luxurious banquets in expensive restaurants, singing in karaoke bars, and massages in sauna salons. Blue-collar urban and migrant male workers with limited wages emulate the lifestyle of their socioeconomic superiors by...

  6. Three Fierce Rivalries, Unstable Bonds: Class in the Karaoke Bars
    (pp. 79-104)

    Loud Western music filled my ears as I stepped into Romance Dream, a karaoke bar in Dalian. I was accompanied by a high-level official in the municipal government and a businessman, both regular customers. At the door, a beautiful woman dressed in a cheongsam greeted us with a bow and ushered us inside. As I made my way into the main lobby, my nose tickled from the pungent odor of cosmetics. Images from an American X-rated video flickered on a wide-screen TV. More than a hundredzuotai xiaojie(literally, women who sit on the stage) stood poised in eager anticipation...

  7. Four Turning in the Grain: Sex and the Modern Man
    (pp. 105-146)

    This chapter looks at the link between the body and the economy. Once a Marxist political economy, the current Chinese economy has recently gained independence with the decline of orthodox Marxism and the rise of neoclassical economics. This independence from politics has made the economy available for metaphoric use. The metaphor works both ways: economy as body and body as economy. The former is evident when economists “diagnose” economic problems as cancers or other illnesses that hamper the operation of the economic system. The line dividing state and private spheres (for example, the society) has never been clearly drawn in...

  8. Five The Return of the Prodigal Daughter
    (pp. 147-172)

    Being the eldest daughter in her family, hostess Hong took on all the responsibilities for her parents and three sisters. She gave money to her three sisters for their weddings; she bought a house and furnished it for her parents. She said, “Sometimes I feel really pressured and depressed with this heavy burden to support my whole family. I never think about myself. All my money goes to my parents.” She said that when she was young, her parents always spoke ill of her because a fortune-teller had predicted that she would beat her parents in the future. She said:...

  9. Six Clothes Make the Woman
    (pp. 173-210)

    This chapter suggests a tremendous irony: hostesses are important consumers and trendsetters in a fashion industry in which the clothes are manufactured in sweat shops manned by exploited women workers. Many hostesses started working in such factories before deciding hostessing was more lucrative. They are able to avoid factory work because they are supported by a sex industry serving men. Women literally get screwed by the sexist economy, both coming and going.

    As a result of the historical trends of patriarchy and masculinity as the primary driving force behind the emergence of karaoke bars, a new and challenging entrepreneurial masculinity...

  10. Seven Performing Love: The Commodification of Intimacy and Romance
    (pp. 211-242)

    As hostesses manipulate and perform different characters, there is a tension between feelings and money as sources of power. Hostesses deliberately trump feelings and seek money and rational control. This reminds us of the earlier discussion of “paying the grain tax.” Money for the hostesses and “misappropriation of grain/semen” for the clients are metaphors for different forms of power. For the clients, misappropriating grain/semen stands as their source of power to resist the authority of the government/wife. For the hostesses, money represents their source of power to defy the authority of the clients who may abandon and deceive them. Hostesses’...

  11. Afterword From Entertainer to Prostitute
    (pp. 243-248)

    This study has been a voyage of discovery for me, but not of resolution. Like the hostesses, I grew up in a patriarchal China that defined me as a filial daughter. For the hostesses, filiality represents an unchallenged value, accepted and practiced, and the traditional value foundation on which the house of their reconstructed identity has been built. My journey has taken me to America, a place where I can stand and see China for the first time. It is a place outside myself where I can see myself for the first time. This is an advantage, or a curse...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 249-252)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 253-280)
  14. Index
    (pp. 281-294)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)