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Is Modern Consumerism Destroying Morality In China?

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Is Modern Consumerism Destroying Morality In China?

“In China they don’t Laugh at You for being a prostitute, But they laugh at you for Being Poor”- Moral dilemma in China

Living in China, it would seem, gives one an unfettered glimpse at a society on the verge of moral collapse.

Each day, while thumbing through the newspapers or surfing the net, one can see the values of the ancient Chinese society being shredded by the lure of the modern, the different.

There are numerous examples of this inhumanity, such as toxins purposefully added to food, corrupt officials abusing human rights, land taken illegally, the killing of accident victims – all done in the name of making or saving money.

In this multi-part series, I will attempt to dissect China’s moral crisis that seems to threaten its legitimacy, if not its very existence.

They Don’t Laugh at Prostitutes

“They laugh at poor people, but they don’t laugh at prostitutes,” Mao, a Chinese villager from Changhzou quipped when asked why he had made sex workers out of his two nieces and his only daughter.

He said that in his village, poverty was looked upon with scorn. Fearing the embarrassment of being a poor man, he started a massage parlor/brothel.

The man, along with his wife, forced their 16 year old daughter and two nieces into prostitution. They tried to justify their actions by saying that in the beginning they had no intention of turning their daughter into a prostitute, but only their nieces who had their parents permission to work as hookers.

The Ma’s said that as their clientele grew, the customers started to notice their young daughter, who was still a virgin.

For this type of business, a virgin means more interest from clients and an increase in profit. Due to her innocent looks and her size, their daughter represented a cash crop, a virgin for sale.

The Mao family quickly capitalized on the sale of her virginity. After realizing the economic potential of selling their daughter as ‘pure’, they then, with the aid of devices such as a fake hymen, continued to sell her as a ‘virgin’.

Prostitution to Climb the Social Ladder

When asked if they had regrets, the couple said no. They said they were trying to ‘help the girls and their families’.

In a country where money worship seems to have superseded morality, the girl’s parents stated that not only would they not be ridiculed for being poor anymore, but they were giving a gift of sorts to the young women they employed.

The parents stated that by selling their bodies to unknown men, the women would earn enough money to return to their hometown one day. They would even have enough of a nest egg to purchase a house.

After reading this, one has to sit back and take stock of what type of society foments such a disregard for humanity, for the life of a child, and for human rights.

One has to shake their head and wonder just how far mankind has strayed, that this type of behavior becomes acceptable – a necessary evil.

Although hard numbers are difficult to come by, the number of brothels in Chinese cities is astounding. Their numbers are a testament to the ‘tolerance’ at a minimum, if not the outright support of the powers that be in China.

While often disguised as ‘legitimate’ businesses, Chinese brothels usually come in at least one of three forms; ‘barber shops’, ‘massage parlors’, and KTV’s (descriptions below).

As a testament to the prevalence of such places in China is that while I reside in a rather upscale area of Beijing, within a half mile radius there are four hard-core brothels and four ‘massage houses’. Estimates of sex workers in China range from 3 million to 20 million, and anyone who has traveled here can not refute their obvious presence.

Why the Moral Decline in China?

Many have attempted to explain the reasons for the moral decline in China and this sort of prevalent abhorrent behavior.

Typical reasons offered are everything from the influence of the Communist party, the lack of the belief in a higher power and a product of a misogynistic culture. Others discuss ‘Asian values’ and the role they may play in the discussion.

The Communist party, it has been said, stamped out any semblance of morality with their strike-hard campaigns when they assumed power 61 years ago. Perhaps it’s influence came to a head in the chaotic ‘Cultural Revolution’, where Buddhist shrines were burnt, religion in any form not tolerated and children were turned against their own parents.

The thinking is that growing up in this environment had left a generation of emotionally damaged people with no appreciation for the nuance of civility.

Others argue that since China is a patrilineal society and has been so for thousands of years, women in China have historically been second class citizens. For in such societies, female children were often killed as they had little value to the family. They could not carry on the family name, nor could they present money to the ghosts of their parents when dead.

The logic continues that infanticide, especially of unwanted daughters, was not an infrequent event. Thus, what would be the harm of putting the girl to work, especially when one considered the alternative.

The Asian Values theory says that the collective is more important than the individual, and until the collective gains enough affluence, then individual rights may be subsumed.

While it does not condone such acts outright, “Asian Values” is a point of view that when considering developing countries throughout Asia, one must view these countries and cultures through a different light. Modern behaviors need to be examined from this historic perspective.

Next Week: Understanding Modern Chinese Immorality

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  • The Cultural Revolution you described is biased. There were positive aspects of it too. The people believed that after hundreds of years of a monarchy government, a different form of government would help solve the numerous problems including overpopulation, poverty and extreme government corruption. The people engaged in the Cultural Revolution believed in building a “new China” through the new Communist government. It is true that chaos sparked from this and the numerous campaigns carried out by chairman Mao Zedong did extreme damage to the public.

    Chinese governments have always held a strong grasp and rigid control over the people. When you say, “female children were often killed as they had little value to the family,” it makes it seem as if parents in China don’t value their children. This is not the case, the government forces people to engage in atrocities for the well-being of the whole. Citizens are taught to self sacrifice for the better of the community. I am positive that those parents value their children, but really have no alternative for fear that they may be made into a public example of what is against the governments rules or desires. The fear of being made into a public example may not seem daunting, but the individual is not the only one shunned, it is the Last name that is desecrated, and so his or her family members are also screwed.

    Putting “asian values” in quotations is biased. 
    Their ancient cultures have some incredibly exquisite values, which are exemplified in their ancient texts and contemporary chinese memoirs. Just because the corrupt government defiles the values, does not mean that those acts are then adopted as Chinese values.

    The article is very interesting, but I would like to see more sources. You say others argue, or logic continues, or some said, and it would be cool to see the source. I really like the examples used to back up the statements, but seeing the other side of the argument would be cool too.

    I look forward to reading the next article: “Understanding Chinese Immorality.”


  • Anonymous

    Ilian – your perspective here is brilliantly written and very insightful, thank you so much for providing your comments. All of the points you have made are very important.

    I agree completely with your analysis that it is most likely that those parents cared very deeply about their children.

  • Livinginchina

     Ilian I would like to hear about those positive things that came from the cultural revolution in China as I have heard that the only good thing it did was to prove Mao’s failings.

    And Ilian, as sad as it may seem, you can read Herbert Allen Giles (for free) where he describes that over 150 years ago female babies were discarded in China as they could not carry on the family name and thus had no value to the family. It sounds like you are referencing a recent phenomenon, the one-child policy, but that is not the context of this article. From a historical perspective in ancient China the women could not carry on the family name, carry wealth to the ancestors in the afterlife and were killed, this is a sad fact. There was no governmental mandate, it is just how they lived.  You may not agree but research will bear this out. I would suggest reading HA Giles (Civilization of China- a good place to start), James Talmadge and a handful of others who traveled to China in the mid to late 19centruy.
    In addition, here is a direct quote that seems to support this fact
    From In Eastern Seas Or, the Commission of H.M.S. ‘Iron Duke,’ flag-ship in China, 1878-83 (J. J. Smith)
    “The earlier fate of these infantile members of the boat population is sad. They are exposed to a “rough-and-tumble” existence as soon as they are ushered into the world, especially should the poor innocent have the misfortune to be born a girl baby, for in that case she has simply to shift for herself, the inhuman parents considering themselves fortunate if they lose a girl or two overboard. The boys, or “bull” children, as they are termed, meet with rather more care relatively speaking.”

  • Anonymous

    Ilian – I received the following response from WC today from China:

    Hello Ilian,

    Thanks for the well though out comment regarding this. As the author of the post, please allow me to shed some light on what I have written and where I am coming from. Regarding the cultural revolution in China, before coming here, I also believed that the period from 1966-76 may have had its good points, but now am firmly against that based upon the what I have seen and read.

    If the cultural revolution that I have written is biased, and this may be so, it comes from my research, my pursuing an advanced degree in China and from anecdotal evidence garnered from interviews with those who lived through it.

    In my experience interviewing people for my articles, and many of whom had parents in the Red Guard during the cultural revolution, I have yet to meet a person who could say a positive thing about it.

    Even the communist party is mute on this account, thus I can find little to nothing good to say about that time.

    The second point about infanticide takes some research. The best way to approach it would be to read works that are available, sparse as they may be (below I will provide sources), and historical data.

    The Book “Hardness of Heart Hardness of Life” states that both China and India have a long history of killing of female babies. In the case of China, it was not forced upon them by the emperor (I have no idea about India). The key justifications for historical infanticide of females in China was primarily that they were an economic burden and could not carry on the family name.

    According to the scholarship, infanticide as practiced in China was a choice and not done by force. There is no value judgement placed on love or lack thereof but this phenomenon is presented as an economic fact. Numerous online resources corroborate this (Google China historical infanticide).

    But perhaps one of the most telling is an a set of Chinese morals from the 16th century. In this text a list of things people should not do. In this list were things such as: spitting, urinating while pointing north, spitting at a shouting star, and killing girl babies (China Wakes- Kristoff et al).

    Yes the act of taking the life of a baby girl was mentioned along with spitting in public. The next issue is to verify infanticide in China with modern occurrences. I specifically discounted the modern one child policy period as an outlier and then did my research. I sought to find instances of infanticide in China in the late 1900s and early 20th century.

    The western authorship of China over the past hundreds of years is relatively sparse as China to a large extent remained closed. By looking at the books referenced below, however, one is able to find instance of what was mentioned in this article.

    Far from being biased, the term “Asian values” is a phrase that was coined in southeast Asia in the early 90’s and purported to show that the Asian experience and norms differ from that of the west. When one references “Asian Values” in scholarship, they are referring to this belief that of paramount importance to a country is economic growth and once this is economic growth is achieved then human rights issues can be addressed. Thus when penning this piece, the term “Asian values” was used to show that proponents of this idea could argue that due to this phenomenon, the value placed on the human experience is less than on the growth and stability of the country.

    Thus, the argument goes, if some people suffer but the group benefits, then so be it. The misunderstanding may come from the notion of typical Asian values which one may experience while living here and the “Asian values” philosophy mentioned above. In this article your author referenced the latter. Your last point is a good one as after living here it may be easy to assume that we all are starting off with the same experiences when it is not true.

    A good example would be that of the cultural revolution as I have explained above. After interviewing many people who lived through the experience, it is easy to assume that others are in possession of this information as well. This is not true however, for I , as you , at one time thought some good had flowed from the years of 1966-76 but now am a staunch believer that this is untrue.

    I appreciate your comments and hope that I have clarified any misunderstandings.



    Interesting resources:
    Excellent book on the cultural revolution Fractured Rebellion: The Beijing Red Guard Movement by Andrew G Walder
    Others on China’s History A History of China- Wolfram Eberhard
    Forty Years in South China Sea- John Gerardus Fagg
    China and the Chinese, The Civilization of China, Historic China and Other Sketches,- all by Herbert Allen Giles
    In Eastern Seas- J.J. Smith
    Profiles from China- Eunice Tietjens
    Other China Wakes (Kristoff, et al)

  • Jim

    WC, the “asian value” argument is very bad one.
    The whole prostitution is global problem.

    It is side effect of “capitalism”.

    Example 1:  Just google Eastern European women brothels in Turkey or Western Europe countries.

    Example 2:  Just google India and its whole caste system full of prostitution.

    Example 3:  Go research on prostitution problem in African countries.

    The problem is simple.  Many young and poor women are either luring by the material worlds or prostitution is only way to get money for them or their families.

    Advice to OP.   Next time when you write an article, at least research more about global problem, instead of thinking that the problem is unique to China.  Prostitution is a problem for a lot of countries including wealthy countries like US and Japan.

  • Anonymous

    Jim – this may be partly true, but it is somewhat unique to the culture of China (or Asia?) that prostitution would be condoned, or even promoted, by the parents of the girl. That is not at all a capitalist problem, it is a moral / human rights issue that is exacerbated by outdated traditions that are protected by dictatorships.

  • jim

    rdube02, what’s you said is not correct.

    Vast majority of Chinese family are condoning the practice of  prostitution and that’s why that’s a lot of angry against any public official who has mistresses.   Only very selective people in region in China who thinks that’s alright and that’s because they are located at poor part of China and have no alternative. 
    They said those things to make them feel better.  But deep inside, they know they are wrong.

    One more thing,  here is another big criticism for OP.  He saw what he saw and he thinks that’s representative of China.  China is very large country and each part has its own unique view.

    The same mistake can be make for many Chinese who see US. They visited Las Vegas or LA and see all moral decay in US and think that’s US.  No, that’s only part of US.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Jim – you make some excellent points here. I really like your comparison to someone visiting the U.S. and judging it only on Las Vegas, good point!

    However, the one issue that does need to be pointed out is what you said – “…that’s because they are located at poor part of China and have no alternative.”

    I think that’s WC’s entire point – how can that be the only alternative? Wouldn’t you say that’s a massive failure of the government when the choice to sell a daughter for sex is an acceptable alternative for a family?

  • jim

    China is still very poor country in many parts and there is big social divided between rich coast big city and their poor cousins in the rural area.  It has little or no social secure safety like food stamp or medicare in US.    Also, there is “huKou” (like “green card”) problem where rural people cannot legally live in the big city and get city’s benefit like school and other supports.  “HuKou” is probably biggest injustice in China, IMO.  No way City dweller will sold their daughter to prostitution.  It just does not make sense since many Chinese

    It is mass government failure, for sure.  I mainly blame President Jiang Zemin since this problem mainly started occurring under his watch and he personally got a mistress.  President Hu tried to narrow the divide, but it is difficult to turn the ship once it sailed.However, this problem is not unique in China.  Same thing happened in India.  There is caste called invisible.  Women over that has to resolve to prostitution for survival as well.  I also see those same problems in migrant workers in many Mexico community in US and a lot of teenage girls are sold as prostitute as well.   Of course, many Eastern Europeans women are sold to prostitution in Turkey.
    In general, no parent wants to sell their daughter regardless of value system.  Most problems are economic related and government policy related, not moral related.   I just don’t like WC’s tone.  He seems to think that it is Asian value that allows this happen.  It is not.   He once again tries to grasp information that fits his thesis.

  • Reason

    Jim the image you portray of China is equal to that of the government controlled media sources but far from the reality. Research from Chinese sources state that Chinese people condone women working as prostitutes in order to pay for school etc. As a matter of fact there were recent online polls regarding this matter and as you know only about 400 mm Chinese have internet access as of now so one could assume that these people are not from the poor parts of China. (the chinadaily was all over this a bit ago).
    Thus you may not understand the validity of polls, but it stands to reason that if these polls were conducted in a fair manner, the attitudes were consistent – meaning truly represent- the attitudes of the people in China who have access to the ‘net ie. the upper strata. Also Jim, the point of this segment, I am taken to believe, is to analyze China thus it would make little to no sense to think about Africa. Also Jim, if you have traveled in China although foods and dialects are different there is one constant- prostitution. Each city has massage parlors and KTV houses, it cannot be avoided. You can travel to Dongguan, Chongqing, Lang Fang, Dalian, Shanghai, Chengde, Anhui, you name it and those places are all rife with women willing to sell themselves and men buying.

  • Dave

    The virus of modern capitalism is infecting every corner of the world and will cause the downfall of decent society as we know it. It has already rendered music as noise, art as sensation and urged everyone to worship at the altar of greed. There is no hope for humanity…..

  • Mariamante

    Capitalism is the downfall? Is that why the Western world finds selling their little daughters to be violated for money normal? It is a lack of judeo christian values that allows men to rationalize the absurd. The corruption of China, and their influence peddling fat cats like George Soros, is what is is what is infesting the rest of the world. China is a facade waiting to explode.

  • Mariamante

    The issue isn’t prostitution. The writer makes the distinction of the issue that in China it is perfectly normal for PARENTS to prostitute their own children. Take off your ideologically dishonest glasses and understand that notion. In any other country parents would be jailed for that.

“The thing about the truth is, not a lot of people can handle it.” -Conor McGregor

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