Sex Work and Slavery in Asia in the 1860s
Sex Work and Slavery in Asia in the 1860s
The 19th century witnessed the rise of New Imperialism as Western powers began to invade Asia through a series of unequal treaties that dramatically altered Asian societies. Several of these treaties such as the Treaty of Nanking (1842) between China and Great Britain, the Treaty of Wanghia (1844) between the United States and China, and the Treaty of Amity and Friendship (1854) and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (1858) between Japan and the United States, forced Asian countries to open their borders and ports. As foreigners travelled through these port cities, Western influence began to shape public policy towards local sex industries, especially towards disease control, the operation of sex workers, and sex slavery across newly defined international borders.
In 1857 in Hong Kong, an institutional system for the registration and inspection of brothels was initiated, along with mandatory medical exams for the workers, and punishments for those who infected clients. This system also consisted of a series of British policies named The Contagious Disease Acts of 1864-1886, along with the amended Contagious Disease Ordinances of 1867. These comprised regulations to control brothels, divided them racially by clientele, and provided expansive police powers. These policies were justified by the claim that they responded to serious public health problems, such as syphilis and other venereal diseases. Furthermore, they represented the “medicalization of power” of Great Britain in Hong Kong during the 1860s. While the institutionalization of these policies only occurred in the late 1860s and especially in the 1880s, one can infer that the ideas leading to these practice encroached themselves into Hong Kong’s society during Cornelius Gold’s visit in the early 1860s.
During the 1850s and 1860s, Japan experienced major and rapid social and political changes in response to economic difficulties, Western pressure to open its doors, domestic unrest, and the transition from the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Meiji government in 1868. During the Tokugawa Regime (1603 - 1868), the state dealt with prostitution openly. The first pleasure quarters, Yoshiwara, was established in 1617 in Edo, and after the signing of unequal treaties (1854 and 1858), which spurred the settlements of foreigners in this area, a “red-light” district was developed. However, the Meiji Restoration (1868) brought about a chain of new laws and ordinances in the 1870s that prohibited bondage and restricted prostitution to a voluntary contract system. Prostitution was heavily affected by the intersectionality of economic conditions and institutional patriarchy after the Meiji Restoration.
The idea of “filial piety” alongside agrarian poverty, overpopulation, and the institutionalized patriarchal system of Japan not only put young girls and women into a disadvantaged position, but also served as the justification for the state claiming ownership of female bodies in an effort to constitute a “female army.” Young women were either abducted or sold by zegen (traffickers) or pimps who belonged to an international network of Japanese brothels in China and Southeast Asia, especially Singapore. The Japanese who left Japan to work abroad were named “karayuki-san.” In an effort to evade strict immigration inspections, young girls were placed inside boxes, barrels, and crates with limited room to move, without access to fresh air or food. This international trade of young girls could be considered child slavery, and the precursor to the modern definition of human trafficking.
In addition to the exportation of women from Japan and other Asian countries, the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) facilitated the transportation of women from Western Europe and North America to capitalize on the expanding colonial markets. These women were predominantly white, literate, between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty-five, and married at some point in their lives. Unlike their Asian counterparts who were often mislead into prostitution, these “Occidental” women were typically prostitutes before their arrival, choosing to flee to Asia to either escape crimes or having been pushed out of the market by younger generations. This choice emphasizes the binary between Western and Asian prostitutes during this colonial time period.
The invasion of Western powers in Asian countries in the 19th century brought about various changes to the Asian societies, especially in the sex industry. This influence showcases the relation between empire and expansion, and the sex industry, marking the new phase of human trafficking in modern history.
- Nam Luu & Kelsey Millward
Howell, Philip. "Race, Space, and the Regulation of Prostitution in Colonial Hong Kong." Urban History 31. 2. Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print
Kyle, David. Rey Koslowski. Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives. JHU Press, 2013. Web. Date Accessed: 05/01/2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=2UV_K5mr3EMC&pg=PT72&lpg=PT72&dq=sex+workers+in+asia+in+the+1860&source=bl&ots=N-DWJZC3UM&sig=iFEFaqIxEq1AUT1rleQZpeLbLBE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=hmo-VbHOIuPLsASPq4GYBw&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=snippet&q=sex%20workers%20asia&f=false
Soh, Sarah C. The Comfort Women: Sexual violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan. The University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print.
Warren, James Francis. Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore 1870-1940. National University of Singapore Press, 2003. Print.
Warren, James Francis. "Japanese Brothel Prostitution, Daily Life, and the Client Colonial Singapore, 1870 - 1940." Sex, Power, and Slavery. Ed. Gwyn Campbell and Elizabeth Elbourne. Ohio University Press, 2014. Print.
 Howell, Philip. "Race, Space, and the Regulation of Prostitution in Colonial Hong Kong." Page 231
 Kyle, David. Rey Koslowski. Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives. Web.
 Howell. Page 231
 Soh, Sarah C. The Comfort Women: Sexual violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan. Page 109
 Warren, James Francis. "Japanese Brothel Prostitution, Daily Life, and the Client Colonial Singapore, 1870 - 1940." Sex, Power, and Slavery. Page 291
 Ibid. Page 294
 Ibid. Page 292
 Warren, James Francis. Ah Ku and Karayuki-San: Prostitution in Singapore 1870-1940. Page 209
 Warren, James Francis. "Japanese Brothel Prostitution, Daily Life, and the Client Colonial Singapore, 1870 - 1940." Sex, Power, and Slavery. Page 291-292
 Kyle, David. Web.