Prostitution in China during Cultural Revolution (Part 1)

A Young Prostitute Aged 17

In late 1972, some people who had committed serious political mistakes like me, some gangsters and I were assigned tasks to build air-raid shelters. Among them were Fourth (meaning the 4th son) and Wu who were regarded as gangsters for their roles in gang fights. We were paid 0.60 yuan (US$0.27 at the official rate then) per day. Some housewives and unemployed people later joined us.

Those with records of political mistakes and gang activities were assigned the heaviest tasks of pushing the giant shovel of a stationary earth scraper. There were two shifts of four people each. Fourth, Wu, Zhang, another man with political mistake, and I worked on the same shift. As there was room only for two to push the shovel, we worked by turn in teams of two, one of which consisted of Fourth and Wu while the other, Zhang and me.

It was a heavy and dangerous job. Seeing that Zhang and I were older and weaker, both being scholars, Fourth and Wu often would not let Zhang and me take our turn and worked continuously. They did most of the work. I realized that they were in fact good boys and that they took part in gang fights because they had too much energy and wanted excitement. We soon became good friends.

In October 1974, Fourth was admitted into a production team under the sub-district government (the change was only in status and pay as he remained working at the air-raid shelter site) and began to be paid a wage higher than the 0.60 yuan subsidy. He invited Wu, me and his eight other friends to his place to celebrate. Like him and Wu, his eight friends were young and had received only three to five years of schooling before school education was suspended during the Cultural Revolution.

We drank spirits and most of his friends soon were drunk and made quite some noises. A neighbor came to see what happened. Fourth’s friend greeted her and asked her, “Fangfang, how is business?”

She said, “So, so.”

“Ha, ha,” one of Fourth’s friends said, “Money floods in when you receive guests. So, so is quite good.”

I looked at the neighbor. She was a young girl quite good looking. “Receiving guests” was an insidious old expression for “providing services for a whoremaster”, but she was not upset nor blushed.

She retorted, “What I make is nothing compared with what you make in one robbery.” Hearing that, Fourth’s friends all laughed heartily.

When Fangfang left, Fourth’s friends talked about their experience with prostitutes. They said that though they have had experience with some girls, Fangfang seemed to be the best. She only slept with the customers she liked and would not drive her customer away as soon as it was over. She was not so snobbish like the others perhaps because she was very young, only 17.

Some of Fourth’s friends then told a story about Moli, another girl. One day someone recommended her brother to her. Moli did not know that her brother was used to visit prostitutes while her brother did not know Moli was doing that business. At that time, their secret was kept quite well. Moli and her brother were very much embarrassed when they met.

Trend to Describe Mao’s China as Clean compared with the Epoch of Reform

In China now, problems such as prostitution and crimes are often blamed as the results of spiritual pollution and capitalist liberalization due to Western influence. The orthodox view is that since the opening-up, many of decadent capitalist things have come in to corrupt Chinese society. In fact, prostitution and crimes were not the results of the reform and opening-up but the results of Mao’s tyranny and Cultural Revolution.

As Mao often interfered with other officials’ efforts to improve the economy, since 1959, the economy was always poor under his rule and there were serious shortage of job opportunities. Lots of senior and junior secondary school graduates were unemployed, but they were called youth in community instead of unemployed youngsters.

The government used lies and political pressure to force Shanghai youngsters to go to Xinjiang, a remote desert area. In all about 100,000 Shanghai youngsters went there before the Cultural Revolution. Then Mao sent red guards to the countryside and more than 700,000 Shanghai youngsters went there.

Supply of Illicit Prostitutes

When Shanghai youngsters were in Xinjiang, they found life there so miserable that as soon as there was chaos there during the Cultural Revolution, most of them came back. In addition, lots of red guards sent by Mao to poor rural areas also came back later. They had to depend on their parents. However, as their residence registration had been transferred to rural areas, they had no food rations. Some of them had to buy expensive food in the black market. They were in great trouble when their parents were sick or died. Some of them became illicit prostitutes for survival. Their misfortune will be described later in the next chapter. That was one of the major sources of supply of prostitutes. This provided prostitutes of mixed quality because a girl was forced into prostitution by poverty. I refer to them as forced prostitutes

The other source provided quality prostitutes independent, pretty and lovely. They were from among the large number of unemployed young people including the unemployed junior and senior school graduates before the Cultural Revolution and the unemployed former red guards who did not go to countryside due to “sickness” and who could not stand the hardship in the Countryside and returned to Shanghai. They had no prospects of employment or marriage but still wanted to enjoy life. As at that time there was no recreation, dating and later sex was a major source of pleasure for them.

Due to the communist puritanical education since the Anti-Rightist Movement, those youngsters were not very clear about love. The red guards among them especially were poorly educated. The influence of old convention was relatively weak. As rebels, they disregarded the traditional values of virginity and bodily pleasures prevailed. Moreover, quite a few young girls knew that Jiang Qing had slept with lots of men but the great leader Mao still married her and assigned her to high official post. That means that sleeping with many men is all right.

At first, most of the prostitutes had had experience of sex before they became prostitutes. The boys and girls had sex first often due to their sexual desire. However, the girls were often indignant that the boys wanted dominance. A boy often thought that once a girl had lost her virginity to him, she belonged to him. Sometimes, a boy even threatened his girl that if she did not obey him, he would make public the girl’s loss of virginity and ruin her reputation. However, those girls revolted against the convention of virginity. They became lasei to enjoy the funs of dating and wanted to use their pretty face and lovely body to make men crazy about them. Gradually, a relationship of prostitution developed from the relations between them and their customers. Later, finding that it was an easy way to make money, some secondary school girls joined those girls. I call those prostitutes voluntary prostitutes.


The above is the except of my book Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements following yesterday’s excerpt “Lasei’s Escort Services during Cultural Revolution”

2 Comments on “Prostitution in China during Cultural Revolution (Part 1)”

  1. Ha ha… I was just browsing around and took a look at these responses. I can’t believe that there’s still this much attention. Thanks for posting about this.


  2. […] The official narrative, touted by Western journalists and Maoist sympathizers, is that sex work was magically abolished by proclamation during Mao’s reign.  Here’s a refutation of that, courtesy of a former political prisoner: […]