Monday, April 14, 2014

Elizabeth J. Remick's "Regulating Prostitution in China"

Elizabeth Remick is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University. She is the author of Building Local States: China During the Republican and Post-Mao Eras (2004).

Remick applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Regulating Prostitution in China: Gender and Local Statebuilding, 1900-1937, and reported the following:
Regulating Prostitution in China looks at different choices that Chinese city governments made in the first half of the twentieth century about how to regulate prostitution, and how those choices affected the ability of local governments to do their work. Page 99 talks about how officials in one city, Guangzhou (a.k.a. Canton), chose to tax prostitution very heavily, in contrast with other cities that made little effort to get much revenue out of the industry. The interesting thing here is that those cities—Beijing, Tianjin, and the Chinese city in Shanghai—had many more brothels and prostitutes than Guangzhou, and therefore more potential revenue. Their officials also knew perfectly well about the Guangzhou model, but chose not to emulate it. The result was that Guangzhou had a huge source of funds that most other Chinese cities did not. This was one of the reasons that Guangzhou could fund an embryonic social welfare system, and build roads, schools, and a university, while the others couldn't. In short, regulating prostitution and taxing it heavily allowed the Guangzhou municipal government to create what we might think of as a modern local state, while other cities made different choices that sharply limited the kinds of services and infrastructure they could provide their residents.

What I'm trying to illustrate with all of this is that decisions governments make about gender can shape or limit their capacities in numerous and unpredictable ways. Regulated prostitution in China during the late Qing and Republic was all about gender: it was female prostitutes serving male clients who demonstrated they were "real "men by doing business, banqueting, and being entertained with their friends and business partners in brothels. Regulating prostitution, taxing it, and even creating a police monopoly over it in some places, institutionalized those gender relations. It also got local governments into all kinds of unsavory business, including giving prostitutes semi-monthly venereal disease checks, classifying prostitutes based on beauty, and bussing prostitutes to beauty pageants. In addition, police established reform institutions for former prostitutes, marrying them off to men who bailed them out. But regulation also paid for poorhouses, old people's homes, and public schools. These are things people now should think about as they unwittingly revisit the debates of a hundred years ago about how to deal with prostitution: whether to ban it, regulate and tax it, or ignore it.
Learn more about Regulating Prostitution in China at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue