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Prostitution and Female Trafficking in China: Between Phenomena and Discourse

Bonny Ling
p. 65-74


Prostitution is illegal in China and is frequently the target of law enforcement crackdowns. In recent years, the country’s growing emphasis on combating human trafficking has also increased the profile of these anti-prostitution campaigns. This is seen in China’s current anti-trafficking roadmap, which identifies the nationwide eradication of prostitution as an important prong of the country’s anti-trafficking campaign. The two phenomena of prostitution and trafficking in women, or female trafficking, are nevertheless not equivalent. This article argues that, in the contemporary discourse on prostitution and female trafficking in China, the two issues are often conflated. The two terms are used interchangeably in a way that has affected the conceptualisation of female trafficking as a phenomenon that is largely synonymous with prostitution. This problem is exacerbated by the social stigma attached to women who are engaged in prostitution, regardless of the circumstances of their entry. Another aspect of this discourse is its dissociation from historical context, despite the fact that neither prostitution nor the trafficking in Chinese women for the exploitation of prostitution are newly arrived challenges for the present generation. The article therefore argues that discussions on prostitution and female trafficking in China would benefit from a conceptually clear framework that examines these challenges as more than a singular purpose of exploitation or a challenge of modernity.

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Bibliographical reference

Bonny Ling, « Prostitution and Female Trafficking in China: Between Phenomena and Discourse », China Perspectives, 2018/1-2 | 2018, 65-74.

Electronic reference

Bonny Ling, « Prostitution and Female Trafficking in China: Between Phenomena and Discourse », China Perspectives [Online], 2018/1-2 | 2018, Online since 01 June 2019, connection on 22 October 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Bonny Ling

Bonny Ling is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Human Rights Studies at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.University of Zurich, Rämistrasse 74/5, CH-8001 Zurich, Switzerland (

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