Karaoke in China: Singing or Sex Club?


Muse Club, Shanghai, almost 1 a.m.

I’m more bored than ever and I decide to contact a girl from Anhui province that I met two days ago on the pedestrian bridge at the intersection between Yan An Road and Xi Zang Road. I send her a text message:

“I’m at Muse, what are you doing?”

She answers:

“I’m working at the karaoke. How many of you?”

“I’m alone, wanna come?”

“If I talk and dance with you, will you pay me?”

“Oh shit, another prostitute!” I think while I give up and order a Carlsberg.

I had this conversation during my first year in China, 2010, when it still surprised me if a girl I met in the daytime turned out to be a part or full time prostitute.

What to expect

With time, I understood that – especially around Nanjing Road, the most touristy pedestrian road of Shanghai – it’s easier to find a hooker than a decent pizza (unless you like Pizza Hut).

There are girls that call you at your hotel room to ask if you need some “help” – the (in)famous ding dong girls.

You will meet hairdressers that invite you for a “massage” in the backroom of their shops and girls that will hand out their business cards on the street promising “24 hours on call for service and please” as in the photo.

You can always find a dancer that is willing to play perudo (a popular dice game) and maybe leave the club with you as long as you pay for her Ballantines with green tea (although having sex with her will probably cost you an extra fee).

There are the massage parlors and beauty centers that welcome you with pink lights and couches full of half-naked girls playing with their cell phones…

And then the queens of Chinese sex industry, the KTV girls (the Anhui’s girl whom I talk at the beginning of this article is one of them).

Karaoke in China

“KTV” is what the Chinese people call karaoke. If you have never been to Asia or watched Lost in Translation, you might think of a “KTV” as a lame bar where people start to sing “Yellow Submarine” or “Satisfaction” after they drink seven vodka and Redbulls.

This is what you get in Europe. And I guess in America it must be pretty much the same.

However in China when a bunch of guys are heading to a KTV is a very different set up.

There are KTVs for the all social classes.

You can choose an expensive venue where business men and politicians gather to discuss important matters surrounded by beautiful girls that, from time to time, don’t limit themselves to laughing at the customers jokes and drinking Harbin beer.

You can opt for less pretentious clubs that even white-collar workers can afford or for a cheap bar designed for the construction workers that left their wives in the countryside.

The average Chinese KTV is a hybrid between a nightclub (lots of lights and girls in miniskirts walking everywhere) and a motel (because of the fact that you rent a room for singing a specific number of hours).

The KTV’s rooms are equipped with a big television where you can see the musical videos and words of the songs, a couple of microphones, a small table and some couches.

Although it has been documented that sex in the KTV may happen – see the book Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China by Prof. Zheng for the crude details, – these rooms are not the equivalent of a bedroom where the customers have sex with the workers.

Many customers are happy to feed their ego by having a couple of girls around, drink with them and spank their ass from time to time. However, the ones interested in having a sexual rapport with the hostesses will reach a “personal agreement” with them and meet up again outside the KTV.

A face issue?

The interesting fact is that, even if KTV are spread all around China, as a foreigner is not so easy to come across to their real function. I’ve been to a couple of KTV myself and I never had a girl overtly approaching me. I guess that you have to ask.

When talking with a foreigner, many Chinese people will deny that the KTV girls are often prostitutes. I even meet some people that deny the existence of KTV girls whatsoever. They will argue that if there are so many KTV it’s because Chinese people love to sing.

And this is true: it must be pointed out that not all the KTV offer female companions.

However this is only half of the story.

This is China, a country where preserving the appearance and saving face will always be a priority.


About the Author: Furio

Furio is an Italian freelancer who’s lived in China since 2010. He speaks way too many languages – none of them with the correct grammar though, – and enjoys writing about China and its endless contradictions on his blog.


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