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Chinese sex workers are flooding into African countries. By all accounts it is a legitimate, happy-ending-less massage parlor. A few months after opening in an upscale mall, management began photocopying ID cards and blanketed the waiting room with posters warning that untoward advances would not be tolerated. Why the grabby hands? Locals point to Chinese massage parlors and brothels exploding across the city: The influx of Chinese prostitutes is a continent-wide phenomenon, argues Basile Ndjio, the author of a forthcoming paper in Urban Studies.
He estimates that between 13, to 18, Chinese sex workers are currently in Africa. Growing African purchasing power helps explain sex migration. That means more money for imported televisions, imported handbags and, yes, imported sex. Ndjio, an anthropology professor at the University of Douala in Cameroon, is perhaps the only academic studying the phenomenon. He stumbled on his specialty by accident while putting himself through graduate school in Cameroon with work as a casino croupier.
Prior to his current paper, Ndjio has over the past six years authored two of the only studies on Chinese sex migration to Africa. When I visited Ndjio at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, New Jersey, where he is halfway through a yearlong research fellowship, he explained that Chinese prostitutes first arrived in Africa during the Cold War almost exclusively serviced migrant workers working on PRC-funded construction projects.
In the second, current phase—which began in the earlys—migrant sex workers joined the influx of inexpensive Chinese goods and services into Africa and began servicing locals. Just as Zambian chicken farmers and clothing retailers in Lesotho resent the one million Chinese who have relocated to Africa since , Nadjio says, so too do local prostitutes balk at Chinese women selling sexual exoticism at cut rates.
The country has as many as 10 million sex workers—roughly the population of Greece—working in massage parlors, bathhouses and karaoke bars. The southeastern city of Dongguan population: Is Chinese sex labor migration to Africa and beyond forced or voluntary?