WANG Anquan is a director I am extremely fond of. When “White Deer Plain” had just finished shooting and the film length was three or four hours, he organised a private viewing session for me. I guess this was because the sexual expression in the film had somewhat overstepped the censorship standard, and knowing that I research this stuff, he let me have a watch and make some suggestions in advance. Recently I saw news that he had been arrested for visiting prostitutes, and feeling sympathetic I decided to properly think over this issue: why are there so many outstanding people that go and buy pleasure, and is the punishment they suffer deserved?
People’s desire has subjective and objective boundaries. The subjective boundaries are physiological limits. Feeling full is the boundary of appetite and orgasm is the boundary of sexual appetite. Objective boundaries are the regulations of society. Forcing oneself on someone is committing a crime, adultery is breaks the law, and in China, buying and selling prostitution is also against administrative regulation (criminal law only punishes the prostitution intermediary and does not punish either the sex worker or the patron).
Without regulations society would not be called society. The following are a few of society’s regulations specific to sexual desire:
The first is that it cannot be forced. So long as the other party does not agree, all acts of rape, molestation and sexual harassment are prohibited and will be subject to punishment under the criminal code if they are to occur. Otherwise, there would be pure chaos, or the occurrence of things like tourists being raped in broad daylight, as happened in India.
The second is that adultery is not allowed. Since one is married, one makes a promise of loyalty to one spouse – otherwise why get married? Being single one can avoid committing the error of adultery. Even though according to statistical surveys the incidence of sexual extra-martial affairs is around 40% (including commercial sex, although it is not all commercial sex), one cannot say that just because the rate of occurrence is high that one isn’t committing an error.
The third is that commercial sex is not allowed. This third regulation touches on a relatively more issues since different countries and societies have different regulations. There are mainly two large categories. One category allows commercial sex, like the Netherlands and Germany. The other category does not allow commercial sex, like China. The majority of countries fall somewhere in the middle by having minor restrictions and not being strict. For example, England only prohibits sex workers to from coercively soliciting customers and does not ban the rest; or for example Hong Kong’s rule of having only one prostitute per residence, and so on.
Why are there different ways of handling commercial sex? The reason lies in that commercial sex is an activity in human society that is ambiguous and difficult to define. Commercial sex in the narrow sense only includes one-off use of money to purchase sexual services. Commercial sex in the broad sense however can include long term relationships supporting a mistress, even including husband and wife relationships in which the wife does not work and is wholly supported by her husband (Engels’ so called “prostitution through marriage of the capitalist class). If were are to use the broad definition for humans’ commercial sex then it would be absolutely impossible to exercise punishment (for example criminal code cannot be used to punish mistresses). According to this definition, there are insufficient grounds for solely picking out one-off exchanges of money for sex to be punished.
Apart from breaking current administrative regulations, people such as WANG Anquan buying pleasure also causes one to ponder the following few points:
First is, what is the true scope of commercial sex in China? Only WANG Anquan, HUANG Haibo, and XUE Manzi have been arrested – how many are there who have not been arrested? Considering the ease with which they found it, this at least proves that this kind of service is very easy to find. It seems that the number of workers in the sex service industry being in the hundreds of thousands or millions according to survey counts has some truth to it.
Second is, merely looking at the effects, can current ways of dealing with the buying and selling of sex reduce the scope of commercial sex activity? If we say that only one in ten transactions is caught, versus only one in a hundred is caught, or only one in ten thousand is caught, then what effect can these kinds of punishment methods have?
Third is, using the broad definition of commercial sex, should we or should we not persist with current approaches in handling it? Can we consider for a moment the logic behind the ways countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and most of the rest of the world handle commercial sex? Can we borrow from their successful experience and deal with Chinese peoples’ same behaviour in a more reasonable fashion?