- Out to Work: Migration, Gender, and the Changing Lives of Rural Women in Contemporary China by Arianne Gaetano, and: Regulating Prostitution in China: Gender and Local Statebuilding, 1900–1937 by Elizabeth J. Remick
The two books under review provide a gender dimension of the studies of state building and macro-structural transformation of China’s twentieth century by paying attention to agency, that is, local state builders’ and individual women’s “independent modes of ideation and practice” and “capacity for purposeful action” (Gaetano, p. 7).
Linking prostitution to local state building in late Qing and Republican China, Regulating Prostitution in China intends to argue that the regulation of gender relations—gender roles and gender behavior—played an important role in the structure and function of local states. Enlisting a political scientific approach, the book tackles the process of local state building by investigating three main subtypes of prostitution regulation in China from 1900 to 1937. These regulatory regimes include the approach of light taxation and monitoring (i.e., a light regulation approach), which was exemplary in Hangzhou; the revenue-intensive approach represented by a case study of Guangzhou; and the coercion-intensive approach of police-monopolized state-run brothels illustrated by the local state builders in Kunming.
Chapters 2 and 4, respectively, examine the objectives and the effects of these three regulatory regimes. Chapter 2 investigates Hangzhou’s “light regulation,” similar to a “harm reduction” approach, including registration, rules about acceptable behavior in and around brothels, infrequent venereal disease inspections, light taxation, and a prostitute rescue institution, jiliangsuo. This regulatory method had multiple objectives: improving social order while allowing brothels to operate openly in particular neighborhoods relatively untrammeled, protecting public morality, and promoting public health. However, the light hand and inconsistent implementation of “light regulation” did not result in state building outside of the regulatory apparatus. The revenue-intensive approach, described in chapter 3, consisted of heavy taxation and minimal interference in the workings of brothels, the objective of which was almost exclusively to raise revenue for the local government with some attention paid to public order. Within the regulatory system, this approach resulted primarily in the elaboration of taxation structures and capacities, while its secondary effect was that the revenues allowed state building to occur in the areas of education and public works. Chapter 4 addresses how the coercion-intensive approach in warlord-controlled Kunming employed a heavy hand, requiring registered prostitutes to live in police-managed spaces under [End Page 137] police surveillance and control, with restrictive rules about behavior and health inspection. Its objectives were social control and policing public morals through complete separation of the brothels from the rest of society in a sort of quarantine. This approach resulted in the gender-policing system, in which new state institutions of penalty, rescue (jiliangsuo), and medical inspections were staffed and monitored.
According to Remick, the light hand (regulatory and taxation) and the heavy hand (policing) characterize and differentiate the three prostitution regulation approaches, which were executed in different localities around China and originated from the regulatory model from Paris to Tokyo to Beijing (chapter 1). While chapter 5 investigates prostitute rescue organizations (jiliangsuo), a unique aspect of the Chinese regulatory system that illustrates the gendered aspects of prostitution regulation, the epilogue discusses the implications of the book’s findings for the present. The history of legalization and regulation of prostitution in China, as elsewhere, becomes a useful reference for the current worldwide regulatory efforts to reduce prostitution and protect the lives and health of sex workers. The failure of China’s prostitution regulation—the regulation, criminalization, and legalization cycle—constitutes a warning for current prostitution activists that “it should be approached with extreme caution . . . , rather than adopted willy-nilly regardless of the social, legal, political...