Neither “Bad” nor “Dirty” : High-end Sex Work and Intimate Relationships in Urban China

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

15 Scopus Citations
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)444-463
Journal / PublicationChina Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


The relationship between sex workers and their clients is generally characterized
as being based entirely on the direct exchange of sexual favours for
money. However, this received wisdom cannot account for a nation such
as China which attaches significant value to “face,” social status and interpersonal
dignity. This paper draws parallels with high-end sex workers elsewhere
in Asia as well as globally. With a focus on the high-end sector, I
examine how workers and their clients engage not only in pecuniary transactions
but also in genuinely intimate and non-remunerative relationships.
High-end sex workers make use of their earned economic capital to acquire
cultural capital, and use online apps as marketing tools to target local elites
and expats to forge longer-term intimate relationships. Male clients in more
commercialized, post-industrial cities in China continue to seek diverse
types of sexual experiences, with some clients seeking genuine intimacy.
Furthermore, I explore how Chinese and foreign clients overcome social barriers
to develop such relationships with sex workers. Building on this sociocultural
perspective, this paper analyses ethnographically both sides of the
female sex worker–client relationship in high-end karaoke lounges and
bars in Dongguan, southern China.

Research Area(s)

  • bounded authenticity, China, cultural capital, economic capital, emotional labour, sex work

Bibliographic Note

Full text of this publication does not contain sufficient affiliation information. With consent from the author(s) concerned, the Research Unit(s) information for this record is based on the existing academic department affiliation of the author(s).