Mei-Hua Chen

Introduction

Although commercial sex is criminalised, ‘mai chuen’ (literally ‘buying spring’) is nevertheless widely practiced and well-tolerated in Taiwan. As a gendered social practice, buying sex for heterosexual men is taken for granted to the extent that wives are expected to turn a blind eye to it. While the term ‘piao ji’ (that is, ‘go-whoring’) conveys strong moral condemnation, ‘mai chuen’ is a neutral term to describe men buying sex on the market just like any other com­modity. The inconsistencies between criminalised prostitution and the prevailing practices of buying sex in Taiwan are inseparably related to the ways in which gender, morality and sexuality interweave with each other to shape commercial sex.

While men’s use of commercial sex is taken for granted, these clients are seldom the focus of academic research. According to Hwang (2003: 75—76) earlier scholars either theorised men’s sexual consumption in terms of cultural and social changes in post-1960s Taiwan (that is, in terms of gender hierarchy, growing economic prosperity and lack of urban leisure), or have adopted a functionalist position to make sense of it. Chiu (1991), for example, considered clients to be ‘marginal’ men who have failed to get married (or could not obtain sexual satisfaction in their marriage) or businessmen who use sexual consumption to build relations with clients. The functional/pathological model chimes with earlier western studies which sought to identify who the clients were, what they wanted from prostitution, and what drove them to purchase sexual services. This line of enquiry however was succeeded by studies that claimed clients are not perverted, but are rather just ‘ordinary men’ (for example, Hoigard and Finstad 1992; Sharpe 1998). As buying sex for men has been considered a rite of passage into manhood in Taiwan, we must dig under the surface to examine the ways in which hegemonic masculinity and the idea ofmanhood serve to shape Taiwanese men’s sexual consumption, and how men across different socio-economic backgrounds manage to negotiate or perform masculinities in commercial sex.

In this chapter I will draw on in-depth interviews with 40 Taiwanese male clients of sex workers, in order to discuss the diverse ways in which men make sense of their usage of com­mercial sex, and to uncover the ways in which buying sex is interwoven with social hierarchies such as gender, class, nationality and international economic disparity. Data reported in this chapter has been collected in the past decade. All interviewees lived in cities of the west coast of

Taiwan where sexual establishments are highly visible. Moreover, Taiwanese heterosexual men’s diverse sexual consumption patterns (ranging from body-selling, pleasure-selling, to sex tourism) were covered. In this chapter, I review the existing literature on clients of sex workers, and then examine the ways in which Taiwanese men construct their first visits to sex workers in terms of the idea of being a man or attaining manhood. I then examine the ways in which the cultural and social practices of ‘wan nu ten’ (‘playing women’) are carried out to conform to a masculine consumerist identity, and embody the idea of hegemonic male sexuality identified by Plummer (2002). In addition to the discussion of the ‘typical’ client, I will also examine narratives of ‘inexperienced’ clients (or ‘duped’ clients). I also consider the collective consumption of commercial sex (for example, he huajeou [literally drinking flower wine] and sex tourism) which is notorious in Taiwan. I then look at the ways in which collective sexual consumption relates to broader social, economic and political power relations. Finally, the ways in which organised sex tourism by Taiwanese men relates to broader social, economic and power relations in the region is examined.