Abstract: China’s 30 years of reform has created a new class of rural migrants working in cities. Hidden within this visible flow of labor forces is a growing market for sexual labor. Within this predominantly female population of sex workers is a doubly-invisible population of male sex workers, or “money boys”, as they are commonly known in local parlance.
Based on my ethnographic research on the male sex industry in China (major sites: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen) since 2004, I locate the money boy as a new labor subject under the state’s continual transformation towards urbanization and globalization. Money boys are the product of a booming labor market, a burgeoning male sex industry, and the emergence of gay and lesbian communities that have been enabled by the state’s active promotion of the market economy and internationalization. However, they are also subjected to structural constraints, such as the hukou (household registration) system, the routine criminalization of prostitution, the short life-cycle of the sex industry, the moral condemnation of rural homophobic cultures, and increasingly stratified cosmopolitan gay communities. Embodying the notion of enterprising self, money boys are struggling in these new spaces of social exclusion, legal constraint, and cultural domination: they are new urban subjects, yet are positioned at the margins of the city; they are new labor subjects, yet are positioned outside of the law; they are new queer subjects, but are regarded as low suzhi (“quality”) gay men. They are a social group which is simultaneously embedded in the neoliberal discourse of development and empowerment, and is at risk of the dislocation and isolation that often comes with the rural-to-urban migration. Through the narratives of money boys’ dagong (working) experiences, this paper links prostitution to labor, migration, citizenship, and urbanization, and offers new insights on the relationship between capitalism, state governance and subjectivity in post-socialist China.
Dr Travis S. K. Kong obtained his PhD in Sociology from the University of Essex, England. He is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong, where he teaches contemporary social theories, media and cultural studies as well as gender and sexuality studies. His research interests include Chinese homosexuality and masculinity, prostitution in Hong Kong and China, and transnational Chinese sexuality. To date, his articles have appeared in books, encyclopedias and journals and he is on the editorial board of Sexualities: Studies in Culture and Society. He is the author of Chinese Male Homosexualities: Memba, Tongzhi and Golden Boy (Routledge, 2011), which discusses homosexuality, male identity and prostitution in different Chinese locales, within the constellation of global culture.
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