A Review of Elaine Jeffreys' "Prostitution Scandals in China: Policy, Media and Society"

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Review of Elaine Jeffreys, Prostitution Scandals in China: Policy, Media and Society Publisher: London; New York: Routledge, 2012.

Prostitution endures to be a contentious topic which has always attracted public, policy and prurient interest (Maher, 2013). Bringing together seven prostitution-related scandals in People's Republic of China (PRC) highlighted by the media since the 1990s, the volume seeks to display the milieu of prostitution and demonstrate the nexus between the rampant phenomenon, the role of media and the impact of social control in reform-era China.

In the opening of Prostitution Scandals in China: Policy, Media and Society, Elaine Jefferys negates/controverts the notion that prostitution is a taboo topic of media reportage in present-day China. She identifies the rise and wide diversity of public debates and discussions on the subject of prostitution which, she argues, has impacted public policy concerning prostitution control and enhanced accountability of officials and institutions in recent years (p.19). Prior to the detailed appraisal of scandals in relation to forced prostitution, youth prostitution, male-male prostitution, penalizing male buyers of sex, police corruption, policing excesses and public health intervention, Jefferys traces the revival of prostitution in reform-era China and provides an overview on the evolution of China’s model of regulating prostitution and the development of mass media. She has drawn the attention to the change of media coverage of prostitution-related issues in China from 'reiterating the Party Line', 'recounting of singular historical events or providing sensational stories for profit' to covering a broad range of issues, such as 'social vulnerability, law and order, civil rights, sexual exploitation, child and youth protection, homosexuality, government corruption, police malfeasance and public health', resulting in changes to domestic prostitution laws and approaches to regulating the sex industry (p.19,147).

Given that the intent and practices of regulatory schemas tend to be dominated by idea of sex, Jeffreys's exploration of official attitudes towards prostitution through the historical lens contributes to our understanding of PRC's abolitionist stance on prostitution. As she notes, in early Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) view, prostitution is completely incompatible with Marxist orthodoxy as it is "an expression of the degraded position of women under fedual-capitalist patriarchy". In view of this, the CCP has been committed to eradicate the prostitution industry through a series of campaigns and uncompromising policy since the late 1950s. Following the historical commitment to abolishing the sex work industry in punitive abolitionist approach, Jeffreys appears pessimistic about legalization, decriminalization or informal governmental regulation of prostitution in China in the near future. In terms of governing China's expanding sex industry, she, however, sees encouraging signs in the increasing attention to the public health interventions and professionalism of police officers for better protection of citizen's human rights, and in the implementation of integrated social welfare programs including the provision of vocational trainings to young women and exit strategies from sex industry, which are a step forwards for sex workers in the PRC. Nonetheless, it seems a pity that there is an absence of concrete and specific standpoint articulated by Jeffreys towards the prostitution control in China. In her concluding remarks, she details noises in media debates surrounding the sexual regulations without supporting or debunking the polarized direction on the pro-prostitution debates and PRC's current abolitionist stance. Rather, she simply concluded that no consensus has yet been reached on the meaning of legalization or decriminalization, as well as how such policies should look like and take place with reference to the public debates. Her...
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