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The great Chinese reform of prostitution in 20th century: 33 amazing pictures

Last Updated on 2022/04/22

In 1949, just after the civil war, Mao embarked upon a series of campaigns that eradicated prostitution from mainland China.

Mao claimed:”we need to clean the house!”

Within a few years, the new regime purged prostitutes around the country. Some of them got married, some went home and some became workers in factories.

Related: Pictures of raids on Chinese prostitution , Images of police raids on Chinese brothels

Chinese prostitution

Late Qing Dynasty

1901, two wealthy businessmen and singer

late Qing Dynasty Beijing Bada hutong prostitutes

Prostitution industry began to flourish in Beijing. In the image: late Qing Dynasty Beijing Bada hutong prostitutes.

Chinese prostitution images

In southern regions, prostitution industry was more developed.

Late Qing Dynasty Beijing clients and prostitutes

Late Qing Dynasty Beijing clients and prostitutes.

Sai Jinhua

Sai Jinhua

At age 13 she became a prostitute after her father died and financial difficulties for her family occurred. She first became a prostitute while on a flower boat.

In 1887 Hong Jun, a major Chinese official, met Sai Jinhua while he visited Suzhou and she became her concubine.

The two moved to Beijing. Empress Cixi appointed Hong Jun as the Chinese envoy to Europe, and so Hong Jun traveled to Russia, Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany as part of his diplomatic duties.

Sai Jinhua lived in Europe for three years. Wenxian Zhang, the author of Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, Volume 2, wrote that when Sai Jinhua was in Berlin, she “reportedly” became the acquaintance of Alfred von Waldersee.

In 1894 Sai Jinhua became a prostitute again because Hong Jun’s relatives did not support her financially.

In 1900 Waldersee became the chief commander of the occupation army after the end of the Boxer Rebellion. Sai Jinhua renewed her connection with Waldersee. Wenxian Zhang wrote that Sai Jinhua “was credited with influencing Waldsee to moderate the harsh treatment of Beijing residents.”

In 1903, along Shaanxi Lane, Sai Jinhua created a Nanban, or a southern prostitute troupe.

She capitalized on the rumors of her romance with Waldersee and became very popular.

In 1905 Fengling, a courtesan working under Sai Jinhua’s direction committed suicide, Authorities charged Sai Jinhua with torturing Fengling, causing her to commit suicide. Sai Jinhua was placed in prison due to the charge.

Sai Jinhua was expelled from Beijing, and therefore banished to her hometown.

The life of Sai Jinhua had been adapted into several films, plays, and television series.

In works she is portrayed as a heroine of the Chinese nation who saves the country single-handedly during a crisis. [wikipedia]

Xiao Fengxian

Xiao Fengxian

Capital courtesan Xiao Fengxian (right) and Xiaogui. Xiao was the wife of Cai E, a renowned general in the Republic of China.

In 1915, with the support of Cai and his troops, Yunnan province declared its independence from Yuan’s rule. Cai met Xiao in Beijing. She was a prostitute in a local brothel.

He was moved by her sad story and paid the brothel to release her. Later, when Cai was trapped in Beijing fighting against Yuan Shikai, Xiao helped him save his life.

Wang Yuexian

Wang Yuexian

Wang Yuexian, the most famous prostitute in Shanghai.

Shanghai prostitute

The picture shows a late Qing Shanghai prostitute to accompany clients to play mahjong.

prostitute sent to a Shanghai restaurant

A prostitute sent to a Shanghai restaurant. When the prostitute was a young girl of 8 or 9 she would be sent out being carried on someone’s shoulders.

Shanghai smoking bar

A prostitute smokes opium with her two clients at a Shanghai smoking bar.

Chinese prostitute

Chang San Brothel

A Chang San Brothel in Shanghai. A Chang San was a type of prostitute during the Republic of China. She would play the lyre, take on calligraphy and painting.

Chinese prostitutes

1895, street performers. By the late Qing Dynasty, many women were sold to brothels due to poverty.

Chinese children prostitutes

Singing and performing were two of the main tasks for prostitutes during the Qing Dynasty.

Application for a prostitute to local police station

Application for a prostitute to local police station.

Prostitutes performing at a teahouse in Beijing

Prostitutes performing at a teahouse in Beijing.

Temptress Moon Illustrated


The Temptress Moon Illustrated: pornographic newspapers appeared in some big cities such as Guangzhou (1905, Fun Days News), Tianjin (1933, Temptress Moon Illustrated), and Beijing.

sex industry in China under Japanese rule

Liaoning Province. In the 1930s, after the Japanese invasion, sex industry was rampant.

Chinese prostitutes dressed in kimono

Shenyang, 1946. Chinese prostitutes dressed in kimono await their Japanese clients.

Shenyang brothel

A Shenyang brothel, 1946. Some brothels were managed by the Japanese consulate and only provided service to upper-middle-class. Others only provided their services to Korean and Russian clients.

injection to a Shanghai prostitute

June 1946. The war is finished. A staff member of the UN gives an injection to a Shanghai prostitute. From 1946, Shanghai required prostitutes with sexually transmitted diseases to seek medical treatment.

Shanghai prostitutes
  1. 66% of Shanghai prostitutes had caught a sexually transmitted disease.
Chinese prostitutes


Hostesses dance with American sailors

Hostesses dance with American sailors.

Prostitution in China during the Communist Era

Prostitution during the Communist Era

Shortly after taking power in 1949, the Communist Party of China embarked upon a series of campaigns that purportedly eradicated prostitution from mainland China by the early 1960s.

Prostitution during the Communist Era

By the end of 1949, 224 brothels were sealed up in Beijing, over 450 prostitutes were sent to prison and 1,268 more left the brothels and were moved to correctional facilities.

Jinan correction facility

Jinan correction facility. In 1951 Shandong banned all the brothels from the province.

Shanghai correction facility
  1. Shanghai correction facility.
Suzhou correctional facility

Suzhou correctional facility in 1951.

Beijing correctional facility

Beijing correctional facility in November 1949.

Chinese brothel owner

Two brothel owners confess to dabbling in prostitution in Beijing in 1951. During the Beijing reform campaign, two brothels owners were sentenced to death and another 357 received different degrees of punishment.

correctional facility for Chinese prostitutes

In some correctional facility prostitutes learned a work and later were sent to factories or hospitals.

Prostitutes participating in epidemic prevention teams inoculate children

Prostitutes participating in epidemic prevention teams inoculate children.

Prostitutes in Shanghai

Prostitutes in Shanghai are sent to a vocational school in 1951.

By the early 1960s, government had basically wiped out visible forms of prostitution from mainland China.

According to the PRC government, venereal diseases were almost completely eliminated from the mainland contemporaneously with the control of prostitution.

To mark this victory, all 29 venereal disease research institutes were closed in 1964.

The resurgence of prostitution in mainland China has coincided with the introduction of Deng Xiaoping’s liberalization of Chinese economic policy in 1978.

Sexually transmitted diseases also made a resurgence around the same time as prostitution, and have been directly linked to prostitution.

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Topic: History of prostitution in China

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2 thoughts on “The great Chinese reform of prostitution in 20th century: 33 amazing pictures”

  1. I used to read a lot of historical fiction about China in the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the strangest things I have read was about a local practice or fashion of Chinese prostitutes who wore painted on mustaches to attract a certain clientele. Can anybody verify this for me and provide a reference? I have no idea where I read this.


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