GUANGDONG, South China — Just a few years ago, hundreds of sex workers lined the entry hall at the Versailles Hotel. The Chinese city of Dongguan has earned the nickname “the Eastern Amsterdam” for its huge underground sex trade and expansive red-light districts. However, such was the enormity of the sex industry that economists estimated the crackdown would wipe out some 50 billion yuan ($8 billion USD), or one-tenth of the city’s annual revenue, from the economy, which would include slowed transactions for businesses, such as hotels, shops and restaurants. The outdoor market – a tatty labyrinth of concrete car garages that once served as mini-brothels – now lies abandoned. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. "Why don't you call the police and check with them?" Still, crackdowns take place periodically - usually timed by politicians to send a message. Only two small groups of men are there, drinking and playing dice over the bar's techno beats. I don't want my hometown to have this kind of reputation. She giggles as the picture is taken, then takes a tip from him as he gets ready to leave. The gift link for this subscriber-only article has expired. "At least there I can earn a living with my hands. From the World’s Factory to China’s Capital of Sex Dongguan, a city in southern China in the heart of the Pearl River Delta, has had a mixed reputation. Rather, the trade has gone underground. Liang, the hotel's chairman, has denied the charges, as did three others.
With about 250,000 sex workers in a city of just seven million people, Dongguan was once a byword for prostitution, which picked up together with the city's manufacturing sector in the 1990s.
The red light distict in Dongguan is considered to be one of the most developed sex trade areas in all of China. Local newspapers have celebrated attempts to give Dongguan a much-needed facelift. There, a "mamasan" — a name given to a woman in charge of running businesses at brothels — would line up a dozen young women, mainly Chinese but also Japanese, Korean and — the most expensive of all — Russians.
As we were driving along a busy highway, he turned back to me and said "anmo, anmo?" The rest pleaded guilty. Most of the tables are empty. They buy new clothes. One taxi driver stated that he could make up to $120 per night from commissions paid out by brothel owners when he would bring customers to their location.
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A staggering 300,000 sex workers – known locally as "technicians" – are thought to ply their trade in thousands of side-street massage parlours, exclusive hotels, spas and neon-lit karaoke bars.
Yet, prostitution has been allowed to operate and, in the case of Dongguan, even flourish.
"Life has not been the same for Dongguan since.". He says it's impossible to know exactly what the financial losses were because officials have been too secretive. Lee hopes one day the sex trade could become "just one normal business activity" with healthier control and regulations.
At the height of its boom, it was estimated that Dong guan's sex industry generated 50 billion yuan in business, or about one-tenth of the city's revenue. The centre aims to inspire artists an area to create, and then expose their talents when the doors are thrown open to the public each Sunday. But the scale is clearly not what it used to be, which may displease those whose business has been affected.
Some 10 per cent of Dongguan's population is said to be employed in the world's oldest profession.
Dongguan's sex trade may now be less visible than before but many thousands of sex workers still operate inside underground venues that are an open secret to those in the know.
"Many wives feel anxious whenever their husbands take business trips to Dongguan," the city's former party chief, Liu Zhigeng, admitted in 2009. The police often fail to investigate crimes against sex workers by clients, it said. Mr Ma, the factory manager, says it is still possible to arrange for sexual services.
They rent rooms in apartments nearby. For 1,200 yuan, guests could retreat to their hotel rooms with the girls.
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Song Changfa said, when the Swan Lake Street, began on Thursday, the phone rang non-stop. Chinese media reports that the sex trade is also believed to have shifted to one-on-one home service and phone appointments and on the streets during my visit, I didn't see any sex workers. Sex trade goes underground in China's 'sin city. Indeed, at my hotel, a four-star establishment in the heart of Houjie, one of the red light districts, the massage and sauna floor still remain closed.
Petite and fair, the 25-year-old is wearing a sleeveless, short, orange dress and high heels. As part of the Made in China 2025 campaign, city leaders plan to transform industry, develop smart manufacturing, and become a centre for robotics manufacturing for artificial intelligence and other high-tech electronics. Last month, the 'New Generation' sex market on Dongguan's outskirts became the latest red-light district to receive a visit from the local constabulary. However, it remains to be seen if the city will ever be relieved of the shadow cast by the notorious sex trade.
Intent on shedding the city's image as China's capital of sleaze, authorities are now going on the offensive.
"We absolutely have fewer customers coming to Dongguan now than a year ago.".
"If you pay 550 yuan, you can get a drink and she'll accompany you," he says, pointing to one girl. But this ended early last year, in what turned out to be China's most sustained and widespread anti-vice crackdown in recent memory.
For 1,000 yuan ($160) I was offered 90 minutes in my room with "two beautiful Chinese girls."
It was originally the most famous red light district in Dongguan, less than 1000 meters away from the hotel, there are 13, the night club seven or eight. You can read this subscriber-only article in full, All done! Night view of a food street in Dongguan Photo: CFP. Tom Phillips reports from China's Sin City.
Many of the estimated 250,000 sex workers who were working before the crackdown are now forced to work underground and are exposed to greater risks. At its height, between 500,000 and 800,000 people—some 10% of the city’s migrant population—were employed in the sex trade, according to the South China Morning Post. The Chinese city of Dongguan has earned the nickname “the Eastern Amsterdam” for its huge underground sex trade and expansive red-light districts.
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