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If you're looking for nightlife in Hangzhou, Shuguang Lu is the best place for bars, but there's also a bunch of watering holes near Ming Town Youth Hostel on Nanshan Lu towards the southern end of the eastern shore of West Lake.

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The Ohio State University. A sex worker lies on her bed in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, March 6, In the s, if you were a young woman in any Chinese city, everyone from waiters to taxi drivers would call you xiaojie. Ten years later, the once-ubiquitous term had become a euphemism for female sex workers. Some government offices even passed guidelines banning their employees from referring to their colleagues as xiaojie. Though prostitution was outlawed in China init has proven to be an extensive and resilient industry.

Massage parlors, karaoke clubs, mahjong game rooms, and hair salons are all common sites for commercial sex. Ding Yu is an associate professor of sociology and social work at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, and she has spent more than 10 years researching the lives of female sex workers in the dynamic and developed Pearl River Delta region, where the university is based.

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The area is also famous for high-profile raids on its red-light districts, especially in the cities of Dongguan and Shenzhen. Both in China and overseas, academic research on sex work often focuses on law and morality, with plenty of s devoted to arguing for either the decriminalization or the eradication of the industry. As part of her fieldwork, Ding even lived with two xiaojie off and on for a period of six months. What she found was that while academics and advocates often insist that sex work should be considered a form of labor, many xiaojie understand their role differently — and in fact delight in the ways their lives diverge from women laborers.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Sixth Tone: You write about xiaojie not only in terms of business, but also in terms of desire and identity. How did you come to understand the xiaojie label?

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A man talks to a sex worker inside a salon in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Dec. So xiaojie as a word has few negative aspects for the women. Sixth Tone: Many of the xiaojie you interviewed come from the countryside. How does this pathway compare to the other options available to them? As migrants coming from the country to the city, they want to be part of this modern, developed world.

The most common other option for migrant women is to work in a factory. They know other women from their hometowns who are factory laborers, and there are plenty of media reports that show how it is tedious, repetitive, and arduous, how the worker is treated like a machine.

They know you are outside the modernity and development as a handmaiden to it. Other options, such as being a waitress or nanny or shop assistant — these positions generally see lower income and worse working conditions than being a xiaojiewhich is thus not a particularly poor option.

Sixth Tone: There has been a huge crackdown on sex work in China in the past few years. What has changed for the women?

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Ding Yu: The work becomes more concealed. Encounters with clients might be more indirect: Instead of regulars who visit the mahjong club or hair salon, they will connect online or through apps. Sixth Tone: Sex work has a long history in China. How has its mainstream perception changed?

There has always more or less been this attitude of having one eye open and one eye closed. For the most part, people accommodate it. For young people, their growing openness to sexuality might mean that the overall environment is a little easier, comparatively.

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With apps and everything, there are more ways for them to express their sexuality or meet sexual needs. A sex worker sits on her bed in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, Sept. What has been the impact of that gap in research? Ding Yu: The research environment is tighter than it was.

From around to the early s, there was more funding and more freedom for research and publication for work around sexuality. But in the last few years, it has become much harder to publish anything on those topics. The impact is that there has been very little research on the major changes to this industry and this community, or on how their work and needs have changed.

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