Zhang Lijia’s book Lotus: A Novel got already much praise from reviewers. For the South China Morning Post she describes the life of Yong Gan, the main female character in her book, and how she ended, like 10 million other women, in prostitution in China.
Yong Gan went to the factory all the same, and life there turned out much as the woman had predicted. She quit the production line after just three months and headed to Tianjin to join the massage parlour, a middle-range establishment on the outskirts of the city.
After a brief training period, she started working as a masseuse, usually for male clients. For a one-hour session, she would be paid 60 yuan (HK$68). Her colleagues, however, were making a lot more. Going slightly beyond her brief, so to say, would yield more than twice as much; offering full-fledged sexual services would earn 600 yuan – her monthly salary at the factory.
Prostitution is illegal in China but is rampant in venues such as massage parlours, nightclubs, hair salons and karaoke bars. Some researchers believe there may be more than 10 million prostitutes in the country. The government has brought in more than a dozen laws to check prostitution in the past couple of decades, in the course of which it has shifted its emphasis from eradicating prostitution to containing it. As a result, shady parlours manage to operate without hindrance for the most part, even though raids are reported from time to time – last month in Beijing, three exclusive “nightclubs” were busted.
Yong Gan’s slide down the slippery path to prostitution was as rapid as it was painful. At every step, she rationalised it was all for her daughter. The hours were long, starting at noon and dragging into the small hours. In between, she would usually fit in a couple of “small jobs” and a couple of “big jobs”.
She would have to pretend to be cheerful in front of the clients, no matter how exhausted she was. Yet the worst part was the constant anxiety. When a client turned up, the girls would gather in the reception area, striking alluring poses and smiling invitingly. “If I failed to be picked, I would be disappointed and anxious. If I got picked, I felt anxious, worrying he might be difficult to please, or even violent.”
Are you interested in more stories by Zhang Lijia? Do check out this list.