Organizer: Christian Henriot, Lyons University
Chair: Wen-hsin Yeh, University of California, Berkeley
Discussant: Kerrie MacPherson, University of Hong Kong
The proposed panel will examine a topic that attracted the attention of historians only recently by comparison with the current historiography of Western societies. The study of prostitution is not to be considered simply as the study of a specific and marginal group of society. The so-called "oldest profession in the world" actually is, by its very nature as an activity related to an essential dimension of human activity-sexuality-a very sensitive barometer of social change. In most societies, including China in the 19th and 20th-century, prostitution became an object of discussion and polemics that directly or not pointed to the status of women and gender relations. As various China historians have been involved in original research in this field for some years, we feel that it is time to present the results of their work. The proposed panel will offer varied perspectives on a particular segment of the community of prostitutes, i.e., courtesans, and examine what perspectives their study can bring on Chinese society and its evolution in the late Qing-early Republican period. Cheng Weikun's paper will examine the increased blurring of definition between courtesans and actresses in Beijing and Tianjin. Christian Henriot will explore the economics of courtesanship in Shanghai, while Gail Hershatter will study the change of status of courtesans and the competition they had to face from other groups of female entertainers in 20th century Shanghai.
Prostitutes or Actresses: Women's Strategies of Making a Living in Early
Twentieth-Century Beijing and Tainjin
Cheng Weikun, State University of New York at Oswego
This is a comparative study of prostitutes and actresses in the early twentieth-century Beijing and Tianjin. In Chinese history, these two groups of lower-class women belonged to the same social category. The rising commercial entertainment in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cities brought about a professional differentiation between them. Through a feminist perspective, the author explores the historical linkage between these two groups of women, the prostitutes' transference from sex business to stage performance under the impact of the commercial amusement, the elite's control and the public prejudice, the victimization of the two groups of women, and their different strategies to resist men's oppression and to make a living. The author concludes that, even if men perpetuated patriarchal structure through the traffics of two kinds of women: domestic women and entertaining women, the latter, however, utilize the opportunities men created for them to pursue their professional fulfillment, romantic love and equal companionship, economic independence, and prestigious status. They were victims of men, but also men's challengers. They developed strategies to protect themselves and deal with men, breaking down the gender distinction by their talent and professional skills.
Some Popular Attitudes Toward Prostitution in the Canton Delta, 1920s-1930s
Virgil Kit-Yiu Ho, Hong Kong University
The "social evil" of prostitution had strongly and successfully withstood the official rhetoric and the intellectual outcries against it in the 1920s and the 1930s. Popularity of this form of entertainment, amidst other reasons, explains largely the failure of those "conscientious voices" to reach the ears of the clients and the personnel in this line of business. Some of the popular attitudes toward prostitution, and the images of prostitute, in Canton and Hong Kong were positive and, in some cases, even appreciative. These positive popular perceptions of prostitution do not only provide us with a different picture of this particular aspect of reality from a perspective other than the official or the intellectual one, but also with an important clue to comprehend the persistence, as much as the popularity, of this form of "vice" in the Cantonese society in this period and beyond.
Courtship, Sex, and Money: The Economics of Courtesanship in Nineteenth and
Twentieth Century Shanghai
Christian Henriot, Lyons University
In Shanghai, prostitution generated a very complex and elaborate economic system which featured very subtle modes of circulation of money. The most sophisticated organization was to be found in the houses of courtesans due to the great variety of services they provided and the number of servants who attended both customers and courtesans. During the period under consideration here, the economics of sex tended toward a relative simplification related to the elimination of some categories of servants and services, but also to the increased commercialization of prostitution, including courtesans, and the outright domination of money. There is no doubt that money has always been at the core of "commercialized vice," but among courtesans this dimension was occulted through a complex cycle for the distribution of money. This main characteristic of this system was that it avoided the degradation through money for both customers and courtesans. This paper examines the structure of the economics of houses of courtesans, the absence of crude sex-for-money relations, and the nature of the relationship between customers and courtesans.
United States-Korean Camptown Prostitution: Women as Instruments of Foreign
Katharine Moon, Wellesley College
An uncountable number of Korean women have worked as prostitutes to U.S. soldiers since 1945, and their lives in U.S. military camptowns have been inseparably tied to the activities and welfare of the U.S. bases. To varying degrees, the U.S. Forces South Korea and South Korean governmental authorities have control where, when, and how these "special entertainers" work and live. The first half of the 1970s witnessed the consolidation and tightening of joint U.S.-Korean control, through the "U.S.-Korea Camptown Clean-up Campaign," over the bodies, health, work conduct, and physical mobility of these camptown prostitutes. The "Clean-up Campaign" was a direct manifestation of increased tensions between the U.S. and South Korean governments over the future of U.S. military commitments to Korean security.
I present a case study of the effects of foreign policy and transgovernmental relations on women living and working in overseas U.S. camptowns, The paper demonstrates how and why control of these women was a symbol of the Korean government's desire for and the U.S. Forces' commitment to a continued, large U.S. military presence in South Korea. The focus is on the role of Korean prostitutes in the 1970s as instruments of promoting each government's foreign policy interests.
The paper questions, from a feminist perspective, concepts in international relations that are taken for granted, such as "national security" and "state sovereignty." The interpretations of such terms by women who have suffered the statist and sexist myths of "security" and "sovereignty," the former and current camptown prostitutes themselves, are presented in the paper in juxtaposition to the interpretations of the Korean government, the U.S. military in Korea, and the U.S. government.
Although several original and provocative studies have revealed the gendered nature of military ideology/institutions and international politics as the cause of military/camptown prostitution, they have not yet examined in-depth the political process by which gender, women, sexuality, and foreign policy, particularly security relations, become entangled. This study accepts the feminist premise that the political and personal are intertwined, and to demonstrate this link on the international level analyzes the relationships among various governmental actors and private individuals involved in U.S.-Korea camptown politics.