Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Scourge of Prostitution in Contemporary China: The "Bao Ernai" Phenomenon

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Scourge of Prostitution in Contemporary China: The "Bao Ernai" Phenomenon

Article excerpt

Abstract

China in the post-Mao era was transformed by a veritable economic miracle and simultaneously underwent a series of radical époque-making changes in the Chinese ruling classes' political and ideological approach to government. The continued rapid growth and the expansion of a consumer society have also contributed to the discrediting of those traditional values which for many years underpinned and fortified the force of communism. In addition to the demise of traditional values, the waning belief in Maoist ideology and the rise of consumerism as the new ideological credo, there have also been transformations in some of the main pillars of Chinese society, in particular the family, as a result of a resurgence of social practices that were thought to belong to the past. The most widespread in contemporary China is the "bao ernai" phenomenon, or the taking of a second wife, which involves mainly businessmen and politicians, strictly related to the increase of corruption. The increasingly worrying proportions assumed in recent years by such practice, while risking to compromise the sustenance of the much exalted harmonious society, have favoured the emergence of a heated debate inside the Chinese society.

Keywords: economic miracle, loss of traditional values, prostitution, "bao ernai" phenomenon, corruption, social destabilization

1. The Two Faces of the Chinese Miracle

China in the post-Mao era was transformed by a veritable economic miracle and simultaneously underwent a series of radical époque-making changes in the Chinese ruling classes' political and ideological approach to government. This was instigated by the extremely pragmatic policies and an adaptation to the new economic and social reality produced by the reform policies that, in Deng Xiaoping's mind, were the only way for the CCP to maintain its monopoly hold on power (Baum, 1996; Gittings, 2005; Vogel, 2011). Specifically, the espousal of the concept of a 'socialist market economy' (shehuizhuyi shichang jingji), also known as 'socialism with Chinese characteristics' (Zhongguo tese de shehuizhuyi), on the one hand, and the Three Represents Theory (san ge diabiao lilun) on the other, caused some observers to pose the question as to whether or not China should still be considered a socialist country.

In truth, while the institutional system based on the three-tier hierarchy of party-state-army is still in place, together with an ideology that continues to honour and celebrate socialism and the leading role of the Communist Party, the very nature of the CCP has been transformed by profound changes. Today it is no longer the party of the working classes, peasants and soldiers united in a common struggle, but has instead become the party of government, obliged therefore to represent all the forces in society that contribute to the 'economic development' of the nation (i.e. private entrepreneurs, capitalists, managers, technicians and intellectuals who together comprise the more advanced strata in society) (Fewsmith, 2002, 2003). On closer inspection, however, it does appear evident that such changes have not marked any real turning point in China, which proceeds along a path of reforms orchestrated by a party that professes to be Communist (it is only by name) and whose chief objective is to maintain the high rates of growth registered in the past few decades. The alternative would be the destabilization of Chinese society and an end to the 'Mandate of Heaven' (tianming) for its legitimacy to govern. At the same time, the continued rapid growth and the expansion of a consumer society have contributed to the discrediting of a whole series of values such as attention to the common good, social justice, honesty and rectitude, which for many years underpinned and fortified the force of communism, governing its capacity to mobilize the Chinese population. The supreme 'good' today has become "money" and business dealing, which seems to have taken over as a guiding force in the party, in the government and in society as a whole. …

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