The chapters in this section address the topic of sex work in selected sites in the region. Elaine Jeffreys traces the history of prostitution in post-revolutionary China. The Communist regime in China claimed to have eradicated prostitution. Indeed, it would have been difficult to undertake such a taboo activity in the early post-revolutionary years when most Chinese people lived in closed work groups where they were subjected to constant surveillance. With the market reforms of 1978, however, more mobility became possible in the society. In the early twenty-first century, it is acknowledged that sex is now a commodity and that sex work exists in contemporary China. Most estimates place the number of sex workers in the millions. China has thus moved from claims that sex work did not exist in Maoist China, to having robust debates about sex work in contemporary China. Jeffreys also traces the development of a sex workers’ rights movement.

Kaoru Aoyama traces the regulation of sex work in post-Second World War Japan. With the passage of the Prostitution Prevention Law (Baishun Boshi Ho) of 1956 (effective 1958), Japan moved from having a licensed prostitution system to a system where prostitution was criminalised. Nevertheless, urban zoning regulations tacitly allowed the selling of sex in designated enter­tainment districts. Legal regulation of sex work, argues Aoyama, is based on the premise that women can be divided into ‘good’ women who are wives and mothers, and ‘bad’ women who sell sex. As in other wealthy countries in the region, sex work is increasingly being carried out by immigrant workers, who are often vulnerable due to language barriers and the lack of a recognised visa status.

Ruth Barraclough provides a historical overview of the changing configurations of sex work in modernising Korea. Under Japanese colonial rule, the local kisaeng entertainers and courtesans came to provide sexual services for the men of the colonising forces. In colonial Korea, the Japanese government also created a licensed prostitution system in parallel with that in mainland Japan. As Japanese forces advanced across the Chinese mainland and beyond in the 1930s and 1940s, they instituted a system of military brothels where Korean women (and some of other nationalities) were enslaved. After the Second World War, there was a further reconfiguration of sex work, first to serve Allied soldiers during the Korean War and then to serve US soldiers stationed in South Korea to the present. In the twenty-first century, the local sex industry increasingly makes use of the labour of immigrant workers.

The chapter by Catherine E. Carlson, Laura Cordisco Tsai, Toivgoo Aira, Marion Riedel and Susan S. Witte considers the complex situation facing Mongolian women in a rapidly transforming society, particularly those who engage in survival sex work. In 1992 Mongolia moved from a centrally planned to a free-market economy, leading to deterioration in state – funded health and economic support measures. Mongolia was also one of the countries impacted most negatively by the recent global financial crisis. Carlson et al. note that due to the previous Soviet influence, Mongolian women are highly educated but due to contraction in the job market, they have been disproportionately affected by these developments. Recently, a mining boom has brought new jobs into the country but these are primarily for male workers, although the large influx of migrant men has resulted in increased demand for female sex workers. A wide range of women engage in sex work on a regular or casual basis and most often do so to supplement their families’ incomes or to pay education fees for their children. Carlson et al. point out how the women in their study demonstrate great responsibility and resilience in providing for their families but face stigma due to the nature of the work they are forced to perform. They are also likely to face violence and abuse from clients as well as their male domestic partners, sometimes leading to alcohol abuse as a means of dealing with the trauma. They evaluate the effectiveness of a range of NGO-administered programs which offer support around safe-sex and substance abuse issues, as well as developing alternative employment opportunities.

Mei-Hua Chen’s chapter on sex work in Taiwan explores the varied reasons that Taiwanese men seek out paid sex from female partners both at home and in the context of business trips and sex tours overseas. Although technically illegal in Taiwan, Chen notes how purchasing sex is a common recreational activity for Taiwanese men. The contexts in which men pay for sex and the reasons they give for engaging in this kind of leisure activity vary across class lines and whether the activities take place in an individual or group setting. Chen notes a wide range of responses, from younger and working-class men who view the purchase of sex as an expression of masculine identity, to middle-class men who might privately seek out romantic encounters with sex workers while in a business setting ‘passing on’ the most desirable sex workers to their clients. Chen also notes that for some Taiwanese businessmen or tourists visiting the mainland, engaging with sex workers is a means of playing out fantasies of ‘conquering’ the homeland through their financial capital. Chen’s chapter points to the importance of understanding the varied perspectives of sex workers’ clients when trying to understand the different forms that sex work takes in the region.