China: Prostituting to Defend Sex Workers’ Rights

Well-known blogger and feminist activist Ye Haiyan, also known as Liumang Yan (Hooligan Sparrow), decided to provide sexual services to rural peasant workers on January 11 in defense of sex workers’ rights after she witnessed a recent raid by police officers in a brothel in Guangxi province.

Liu wrote about her day of prostitution on her Sina Weibo account on January 12 and while her posts were removed by Sina employees, Liu has a backup of her writings on Tencent's Qzone personal diary site. Her account illustrates the lives of the lowest strata sex workers in China. Below is a reconstruction of her deleted Sina microblog posts taken from Qzone:


Today I conducted investigative research at a 10-dollar sexshop and witnessed the arrest of a sister by police. These sisters are paid between RMB 10-20 (USD 1.5-3) for having sexual intercourse with their customers. They are serving in the lowest strata of society. I wish that police would exercise discretion and not harshly exploit them with fines. I also wish the public would speak out against this legal robbery of our sisters. The arrest took place in Bobai, Guangxi.

这个姐妹十分热心,她辛苦赚钱,交完房租,准备回家过年。刚刚打好了洗头水,说洗完头就回家,结果就被警察抓了。 我想看看,中国政府,是以罚款为目的,还是为了解决民生治安为目的。性工作者在隐蔽的场所,解决了农民工的性需求,也解决了自己的生存问题,而中国政府在做什么?

This sister is very hardworking. She earns enough money to pay rent and is preparing to go home for the lunar new year. She was preparing to wash her hair when police officers apprehended her. I wonder whether such kind of a raid is for the sake of punishment or social security. Sex workers serve the sexual needs of rural migrant workers at the same time that they solve their own survival problems in a private setting. What has the Chinese government done to help them?

孟建柱老师:希望您能体谅民间的疾苦,不要从性工作者身上,谋取行政经费。特别是贫困的性工作者。希望公安部能在内部发个通知,对于贫困性工作者,在年关之际,少下黑手。 中国民间女权工作室叶海燕,深切恳求。

Master Meng Jianzhu [Translator note: Meng is China's Minister of Public Security]: Hope you can understand the pain of the grassroots. Don't exploit administrative fees from sex workers, especially the poorest among them. I wish that the Public Security Bureau could issue an internal notice and ask the police officers to stop raiding poor sex workers, particular as the new year approaches. A humble plea from Ye Haiyan, Chinese grassroots women's rights defender.

Ye Haiyan in a 10 dollar sexshop


Beginning now, I am providing free sexual services for rural migrant workers. First of all, this is to prevent them from being caught and legally robbed by police. Secondly, this is to serve the sexual needs of the grassroots and help relieve social pressure. Thirdly, I want to create a sharp contrast between my love for the grassroots and the cruelty of the government. I hope that they will be touched by my action, which will end tomorrow.


My first sexual service was given to an 18-year-old boy from a rural village. He was hovering outside the brothel before he asked me how much it cost. I asked him how much he could pay, and he asked if RMB 10 was enough. I asked him how old he was, he answered 18. I asked him why he came, whether he was a virgin. He didn't seem to understand my question and wanted to leave. I said: come in, I'll do it for free. I helped him put on a condom and reminded him to bring his own every time he needs this kind of sexual service in the future.


I provided free sexual services to 4 people. One of them was in his fifties. It was raining and he was wearing rain clothes and boots, had wrinkles all over his face. I said I provided free service. He asked why, looking at my shining white skin, not understanding what the deal was. I told him I had been sent by Beijing. This society is so full of inequalities. Family background, opportunities, rights, development…even sex is unequal.


All the grassroots want is sex. He can afford RMB 10, it won't negatively effect his life or society. Men like him don't have enough money to get a wife, but at least they can fulfill their sexual needs through sex workers. Yet you want to rob RMB 3,000 from them? First you push them into the darkest corner, and still you want to rob him. Isn't it too cruel?


The sister who is preparing to go home for lunar new year was released today after paying a RMB 3,000 fine. Which means she'll have to take 150 clients to earn it off. I felt so bad that I couldn't help her when I saw them being robbed by police.


Please try to understand their fear and anxiety. She just wants to earn RMB 20, but someone is watching her purse at every instant, trying to snatch RMB 3,000 from her. How can she be happy? The undercover sting operations keep them living in fear, never knowing if a man is a real client or a police rat, the difference between whether or not she'll earn RMB 20 or lose RMB 3,000.


Who would go to a 10-dollar sexshop? Will the rich come here for the old prostitutes? They would never come to such a filthy place, they look down upon them. Only peasant workers come here. The peasant worker client that I served, his clothes were all worn. I felt so sad when I embraced him. Doesn't he even have time to stitch up the holes in his clothes?


The men there said I am the kindest woman in the shop. Actually, I just pay respect to them and see them as my brothers, as family. I don't look down them, rather I treat them like “the boss” no matter how worn-out their clothes are or how dirty they are. I embrace them and sooth them, let them feel that someone still likes them.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.