Girlfriends for hire bolster city's economy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 August, 2010, 12:00am

A 19-year-old woman wakes up at 4pm every day and has her make-up and hair done at a makeshift beauty salon.

It is just off a busy street dense with five-star hotels and nightclubs in Houjie town in Dongguan, Guangdong.

The stylist helps the teenager from Chongqing put on the trendy look - pink lip gloss and blue eye shadow - she sees in fashion magazines. It takes 40 minutes and costs 20 yuan (HK$23).

The beautician won't say so, but she knows her client is one of the army of 100,000 prostitutes working in the hotels, saunas, massage parlours and karaoke bars of this manufacturing heartland, notorious as China's sex capital for more than a decade. And the salons along that back street are kept in business mostly by those women.

The Shanghai Morning Post recently reported: 'Prostitutes in Dongguan have contributed a huge amount of revenue to many sectors, from jewellery shops to beauty salons, as well as hotels and sex shops, bringing some 40 billion yuan in revenue directly or indirectly to related service industries.' That would amount to roughly 10 per cent of Dongguan's gross domestic product last year.

The newspaper said the sex trade in the city had developed its own unwritten set of service standards, from detailed specifications for the facial expressions in the introductory striptease to how many times clients may achieve orgasm in a two-hour session, which costs between 400 and 2,000 yuan. Clients' feedback is highly valued by procurers; negative reviews could result in fees being withheld.

The industry also nourishes more than 80 luxury hotels and thousands of budget rooms. Many town cadres are allegedly shareholders in these places and are bribed with sexual services.

Dongguan has launched four high-profile crackdowns since November to rid itself of this stain, under the orders of the Ministry of Public Security, but the general feeling is that it is an impossible task.

A resident of Changping town with detailed knowledge of the industry said sweeps had come and gone but government complicity continued to sustain it.

'The average client spends between 500 and 800 yuan per visit, which translates into a huge sum when a city has 100,000 prostitutes,' said an operator who declined to be named.

'Most mid-range sauna centres have about 100 prostitutes, and each of them provides sexual services to about three customers every day. Prostitutes there can earn around 15,000 yuan a month and have strong purchasing power. Some even hire male lovers to comfort them after work.'

More than 25 mainland cities including Dongguan are under an unprecedented anti-vice watch after three teams from the central government carried out undercover investigations in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin and Chongqing in May. Thousands of saunas, massage parlours and karaoke bars have been shut down across the country.