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The Little Shop of Sex

Note: this article contains images of a sexual nature that may cause discomfort to some. Reader discretion is advised.

中文

What’s on Beijing’s mind? Sex, among other things.

The first sex toy shop opened here in 1992, and there are now an estimated 2,000 “adult shops” in the capital.

To gain some insight into this industry and the lives of those involved in it, we interviewed the proprietor of a small sex shop located in Sanlitun, the entertainment district of Beijing and a magnet for foreigners. She declined to be photographed for this article, but was more than happy for us to photo her merchandise. The interview with her is as follows.

How did you get into this line of work?

A friend of mine from my hometown in rural Anhui province introduced me to this business. I was attracted to it by the fact that it doesn’t require hard work and that the start up capital is quite low. I founded the shop over three years ago, after moving to Beijing. I’m the sole employee. My friend is still involved in this industry and supplies me with merchandise.

Has this business been profitable?

I can earn much more running this business than I could in my hometown. I don’t have a high education level, so my alternatives would have been washing dishes or babysitting.

How much money does your sex shop make each month?

I’d rather not say, but it is two to three times what I would have made as a babysitter in my hometown.

Are the small sex shops in Beijing usually managed by migrants from the countryside?

Yes. This job is quite time consuming, so people from Beijing wouldn’t want to do it.

Can you please describe a typical day at work?

(Continued)

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Proud of the Propaganda

Zha Xi is a Tibetan migrant who moved to Beijing several years ago, in search of better economic prospects. A Buddhist, he is part of a group of Tibetan migrants who sell Tibetan artifacts and Chinese propaganda posters in Beijing. The posters, which are copies of posters printed in the 1960s, proclaim various messages intended to strengthen the Party’s position in society and unite the common people.

These days, the posters are a popular sales item among the foreigners who pass by Zha Xi’s makeshift bazaar, set up on on a busy sidewalk in the heart of Wudaokou, Beijing’s university district. He usually earns about 1,000 RMB a month ($150), significantly more than he would have in his village. We spoke with him to gain some insight into his life and his views regarding his wares.

Where are you from?

A village in Sichuan province, on the border with Tibet. There are about 500 people in my village.

Can you describe your childhood and your life in your village?

My family is very poor. I am the youngest of 5 children. They are all farmers and they grow a special kind of Tibetan wheat. They live in a two story self constructed home built of stone.

How much money does your family farm make per year?

The farm doesn’t really make any money, since anything we save is spent at the end of the year, when we buy a new cow. A cow is 2,000 RMB ($300).

How much schooling did you receive? Which languages can you speak?

I attended elementary school for three years, from the age of 8 until I was 11. I can speak Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese. In Mandarin Chinese, I understand the characters for numbers and the characters for male and female. I can read a little of the Tibetan script.

Improve the culture, march toward the modernization and standardization of the People’s Liberation Army

Why did you move to Beijing? How did you hear about this job?

(Continued)

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The Top Tout in Town

John, the top tout in Beijing’s tourist entertainment district

Tout (n.)

Someone who publicly solicits customers in a bold way.

“Hello, want beer?” “Hi, this great bar! Come inside!” “Good drink here!”

The calls grow louder and more intrusive as you progress down Beijing’s Sanlitun Bar Street, a cornucopia of gaudy facades, neon lights and larger than life beer advertisements. This stretch of Sanlitun is home to a number of bars that depend on touts to feed their thirst for customers, most of whom are tourists. The touts work the sidewalk like carnival barkers, each having only a few seconds to pull passing customers inside before they pass onto the next bar’s turf.

John is a longtime Beijing bar tout in his 30s that we recently interviewed. Contrary to many others in his line of work, John is not obnoxious. He comes off as amiable and genuine. Also unusual is his command of the English language, which is unheard of among touts in this country. He was happy to shed some light on his profession and discuss why some bars have touts and others don’t.

So, you speak English?

Yes.

Interesting. I’ve never met someone working outside a bar in China who can actually speak English.

In some bars, if you can speak English, it’s easy to get a job.

When did you begin working at this bar?

About 7 years ago.

How did you find this job? How did you enter the touting profession?

A friend of mine was working at a bar like this and he introduced me to the management.

Did you speak English at that time?

I did, but not very well.

Where did you learn the English that you now use on the job?

I started learning when I was 14. Now I practice with foreigners who are walking down the bar street. I’ll say “Hey, I have some English questions to ask you”. I have some foreign friends and I read English newspapers. I also take classes at New Oriental (the largest private language services provider in China).

Did you receive any training as a tout?

No, we just start work and then practice calling out to customers.

Have you trained any other touts?

No, my bar hasn’t hired any new touts in 7 years.

What about female touts? Why are there no female touts?

(Continued)

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Let’s Dance

Beijing street dancers Lang Xin Long (left) and Liu Hong Wei (right)

中文

Liu Hong Wei and Lang Xin Long are two young, aspiring dancers who have moved to Beijing with dreams of stardom. On weekend evenings, they can be often be spotted dancing at a busy intersection in the heart of the city’s entertainment district. You can see videos of them performing here:





httpv://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjE4NTg1MTc2.html

httpv://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjE4NTg4MTA4.html

Lang Xin Long practices Michael Jackson style dancing, while Liu Hong Wei prefers Korean style break dancing. They are best friends, a relationship forged out of unity of purpose and plight. Though their struggles are many, their goal is singular. Their stories are as follows:

Lang Xin Long (age 22):

Can you tell me about your early life? Where did you grow up?

I grew up on a wheat farm in Gansu (a remote area in Western China). As a child, I helped out on the farm.

What schooling did you receive?

I attended primary school and junior high school. I dropped out when I was 14.

What happened after that point?

I ran away from home from home at age 14, due to suffering beatings at the hands of my father. I wanted to get as far away from home as possible, so I snuck onto a train bound for Urumqi in Xinjiang (the capital of the westernmost province in China). I haven’t been back since.

What did you have with you when you ran away?

(Continued)

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Down and Out in Beijing: The Story of a Migrant Beggar


Old Zhao in front of Propaganda nightclub in Wudaokou, Beijing

中文

“Old Zhao” is an elderly, bearded beggar who spends his evenings working the streets of Wudaokou, in Beijing’s university district. After several years of plying his trade, Old Zhao, with the clinking of coins in his porcelain begging bowl, has become one of the most recognizable figures in the neighborhood. His story is a familiar one for tens of millions of working class Chinese people, even if his current choice of work is not.

For someone who has endured a lifetime of hardship and limited opportunities, he appears remarkably content with his current existence. I spoke with Old Zhao recently and found out what draws him to the indigent lifestyle.

How old are you? Where did you grow up?

I’m 70 years old. I was born in the village of Minquan, in Henan province.

Could you tell us about your early life?

I was a single child and grew up on a farm in Minquan. My mother was a cook and I learned how to cook from an early age. I picked crops on my family’s farm and also served as the village cook for the Production Team (Production Team was formerly the basic accounting and farm production unit in the people’s commune system in China from 1958 to 1984).

I got married at age 24 and had a son a couple years later. Now I have two grandchildren. We all lived and worked on the family farm, until 3 years ago, when I left. The farm has wheat, corn and other crops. We have a self constructed three room house. We also have a backyard, with chickens, dogs and pigs.

What do you think of Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao)?

He was the leader of the Revolution and the current leader of China is following in his example. I have nothing else to say.

Was life on your farm and in your community affected by the Cultural Revolution?

Not at all.

Did you attend school?

I attended one year of elementary school, but then dropped out to work on the farm. I can’t read and write. The only Chinese characters I understand are those for my name.

When did you first come to Beijing? Why did you decide to become a beggar?

(Continued)

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