Journalist Zhang Lijia’s book Lotus: A Novel on prostitution in China hides nice jewels in different corners. Sex workers often held very strong religious believes, she tells Karen Ma in AsianCha.“I believe it is their way of cleansing themselves, but also because they feel the deities won’t judge them.”
KM: In the novel, I found Lotus’ strong belief in Buddhism fascinating. In your research, did you find many working girls were very religious?
LZ: Yes, many sex workers are very religious. One woman I interviewed told me about a dream, which I borrowed for the novel. She dreamt that she died—in fact, at one point she was obsessed with the idea of death, and often thought she was going to die. So she wrote down her bank details for her mother, in case she died and no one knew where to find the money she had in various banks. In this dream, she was dead. Her whole family—parents, sisters and daughter—came to say goodbye in front of her tomb. They laid down a bunch of white flowers. From death, she watched them, as if in a film. On closer examination, she saw the flowers were made of toilet paper.
It seems to me a high percentage of working girls have some kind of religious belief, either Buddhism or Christianity. I believe it is their way of cleansing themselves, but also because they feel the deities won’t judge them.
KM: Would you say your strong interest in writing about characters/people on the fringe has something to do with your own background?
LZ: Yes, absolutely. Because of my poor family, I’ve always taken an interest in the “little people”—xiao ren wu, those who struggle at the bottom of society. Artists tend to be attracted to those living on the fringe. Also I believe how these people are treated is the true measure of a society.
Are you looking for more stories by Zhang Lijia? Do check out this list