Prostitution in Shanghai: Interview With a Prostitution Tout

By Mitchell Blatt | Food and Leisure

Mar 24

East Nanjing Road has always been the base of prostitution in the city that became known as “the Whore of the Orient.” The classic Chinese novel The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai written in 1892 describes life in the prostitution houses on Hankou Road and Fuzhou Road, just south of Nanjing Road.

Sidney Rittenberg, who stayed in China and joined the Communist Party after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, recalls in his memoir walking down Nanjing Road just after the War and being bombarded by prostitutes:

There were girls all up and down Nanjing Road. Phalanxes of girls. Columns and regiments of hungry, ragged girls who blocked my way insistently, grabbing at my sleeve. ‘Quickie, Joe?’ ‘Quickie, Joe?’

Today, the industry is still there. Walk down the street, and a bunch of touts are always hawking their ladies with calls for “massage.” East Nanjing Road has some of the most aggressive and shameless touts in the country, selling souvenirs as well as sex.

What’s it like for the touts today to work such a historic street?

I decided to find out, interviewing two touts on the street.

Hefa, male, Shanghainese
“How long have you worked this job?”
“10 years.”

“Why do you choose Nanjing Road? I don’t see this kind of promoter on other streets.”
“Because there are so many people on Nanjing Road.”

“Do you target Chinese people, too, or just foreigners?”
“Yes, I also ask Chinese people. If they have money, then I’ll ask them.”

“Do the police ever give you trouble?”
“No, they don’t care about this business.”

Xiaolou, female, from Hebei
“How long have you worked this job?”
“2 months. I graduated from a very low-ranking university and couldn’t find a good job.”

“Do the police ever give you trouble?”
“No, the police don’t give me trouble. Our boss is a big player. The police just care about money.”

“What day do you do the best business?”
“Sunday. On the weekend, there’s more people.”
















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About the Author

Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist based in China. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, The Hill.com, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.

[…] In China, you can basically launch fireworks and firecrackers where ever the hell you want. There are laws regulating the launch of fireworks in some cities, but the police don’t really give a damn, as evidenced by the booms going on in most cities throughout the day. Nor do they pay much attention to the touts standing up and down Nanjing Road harassing people as they walk by with calls for “massages.” […]

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Mitchell Blatt is an intrepid travel writer, and an author of two top China guidebooks, who brings his readers deep into the cultures of the places he explores. Subscribe now to get real stories of real people in real places around the world delivered right to your inbox.