Analysis of Chinese Prostitutes in America
During the 1850's to the 1880's most Chinese women that came to San Francisco were prostitutes or bounded. These women were usually lured, kidnapped, bought, smuggled, and forced to slave themselves as prostitutes. In San Francisco, these prostitutes were usually worked at the brothels run by the secret society of the Tongs. Chinese prostitutes also had to work in the Comstock Mines of Nevada at the Chinatown brothels. Chinese prostitutes were identified as cheap prostitutes, for they were of the lowest order. Due to the vast sex ratio and loneliness of Chinese males from white communities created the high demand for prostitutes. Miscegenation laws prohibited Chinese men from having relationships with Caucasian women and Chinese men were usually denied from Caucasian prostitutes. Another reason female Chinese prostitutes were highly demanded was because of the shortage of Chinese women; In 1850 only seven Chinese women inhabited San Francisco, while there were four-thousand and eighteen men.
The merchants and protective association members that arranged job passages for male sojourners supplied Chinese prostitutes to their profiting. The secret Hip Yee Tong organizations monopolized control of many vices—one being prostitution. Their primary purpose was to import prostitutes, also referred to as "sing-song girls".
The Chinese prostitutes usually were imported as indentured servants or mui jai, Cantonese for "young girl". These women's ages ranged between sixteen to twenty-five, some were even younger. Mui jai were girls sold to domestic labor because their parents were impoverished. Their owners were supposed to provide these girls with necessities , like food and housing, and find them a husband when they were to turn of age. However, some mui jai were sold in China from seventy dollars to one-hundred and fifty dollars. They were then sold again in America ranging from three-hundred and fifty dollars to a thousand dollars, and sometimes even more - journalist reports at the time said a female baby could bring in one to two hundred dollars, while teenager girls could sometimes bring in fifteen-hundred dollars. Like real merchandise, a prostitute's price depended on supply and demand. For example, during war and famine times in China, the sale of daughters increased, so the prices dropped. Prices in the United States rose when stringent laws were passed, suppressing Chinese prostitution. In 1860 about eighty-five percent of Chinese women in San Francisco worked as prostitutes. In 1870, sixty-one percent of the three-thousand five hundred and thirty-six Chinese women living California worked as prostitutes. The high prostitution occupation then dropped to twenty-four percent in 1880.
The young Chinese women lived in the barracoon, also known as "auction blocks" and "Queen's Rooms". The barracoon was a large room that was to occupy fifty to a hundred women. The women in the barracoon were treated like livestock; they were put up on display for sale, stripped to be inspected, and sold to the highest bidder. These women were forced to sign documents and service contracts when bought. The contracts usually stated they were to serve as prostitutes for four to five years without any wages. Those that were lucky were sold to well-to-do Chinese. The girls would be concubines and/or mistresses or serve high-class men. The unfortunate women were locked in street cribs, being forced to service to poor laborers, teenage boys, sailors, and drunkards for as little as twenty-five to fifty cents a customer. The less-fortunate prostitutes were just left to die.
Sing-song girls were usually kidnapped and taken from their cribs under their masters's noses. These kidnapped girls were rushed inland to agricultural and mining town's Chinatowns that had no women to work as prostitutes. There was nothing worse for a Chinese prostitute's life than to be, in a way, exiled to a mining camp such as...
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