Opinion | Available artists: imperial China regulated brothels, Malaysia bars them

In some countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Singapore, the laws reflect a more pragmatic approach, in which the state regulates the activity in varying degrees, from requiring sex workers to undergo regular health screenings to taxing their incomes.

Prostitutes in the red light district of Amsterdam. Some countries, such as the Netherlands and Singapore, take a pragmatic approach to sex work, which is regulated and sometimes taxed. Not so Malaysia. Photo: Getty Images

Prostitution is illegal in China, but this wasn’t always the case. For thousands of years, the Chinese state had regulated sex work in different ways.

The standard word for sex worker in Chinese, changji, originally referred to individuals who entertained. Even after the inclusion of sex in the repertoire of the changji, the element of artistic talent and performance remained intrinsic to some categories of sex work.

Prostitutes were divided into four grades during the declining years of China’s Qing dynasty. The first grade were not only attractive but also accomplished in playing musical instruments and singing. The second grade were very attractive but not artistically talented. The third grade were “ordinary looking”. The fourth grade were older women. Photo: Getty Images

There were six main categories of sex workers in China, the most prestigious of whom were those who served in the palaces of kings and emperors. They were more entertainers than what we understand today as sex workers.

One could not expect the ruler’s wife or any of his consorts to entertain foreign dignitaries or government officials invited to palace banquets, so the palace employed a team of female singers, dancers, acrobats and waitresses for this purpose.

If one of them, while entertaining or serving, caught the eye of one of the guests or the ruler himself, then she would be required to make herself sexually available, for which she would be rewarded with money or gifts.

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Entertainers employed in the homes of noblemen, officials and wealthy men performed the same roles as their counterparts in the palace.

The next two groups were the sex workers in government and private brothels. The women in state-run establishments enjoyed certain rights, such as rest days and protection.

The most popular among them could even be selective of who they entertained, or could choose to only “peddle their artistic talents but not their bodies”.

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Private brothels were basically the same, except that they were run by private individuals who were licensed by the government to operate.

The fifth category of sex workers were the women who followed the troops. While they also provided entertainment, the sexual aspect of their work was much more pronounced.

They were similar to the “comfort women” in the early 20th century, the hundreds of thousands of women in conquered territories who were forced by the Japanese Imperial Army into sexual slavery.

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The last category of sex workers were the “hidden prostitutes”, hidden because they fell outside the government’s supervision, did not pay taxes and were illegal.

The clandestine nature of their work exposed them to greater exploitation and harm from their clients or procurers.

There were two main sources of sex workers. The first group were the womenfolk of “enemies of the state”, such as the regime’s political rivals, disgraced officials and criminals.

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However lofty their status might have been – they could even be empresses and princesses of vanquished dynasties – they could be dispatched as sex workers.

The second group were women struggling with poverty.

Today, poverty remains the main reason for women, and men, to enter the sex trade. While sex workers have more agency and autonomy now, helped in large part by the progressive and protective laws of some countries, many turn to sex work in the absence of practical alternatives.

This article was originally published by a amp.scmp.com . Read the Original article here. .