Book on Chinese student prostitution ruffles feathers
Agence France Presse
August 5, 2001

Singapore's material girls: ASIAWEEK

KISS-AND-TELL novel exposing the double lives of China-born students in Singapore has flown off bookshelves in the city-state and ruffled feathers along the way.

Wuya (Crows in Mandarin), details the lives of China-born xiaolongnu or little dragon girls who arrive as students but end up as hostesses, mistresses and prostitutes in their pursuit of the good life.

The novel has sold 10,000 copies since its launch on June 3 -- a record in Singapore where most Chinese-language novels manage a meagre 2000.

The book, which Beijing-based author Jiu Dan says is based on fact, has divided Chinese nationals and Singapore Chinese between those who praise Wuya for its brazen honesty and those who say it is entirely fiction.

China-born students receive a lot of support from their families "and would never resort to prostitution," Dooby Wu Li Rong, a student from Guangdong, told AFP.

"Chinese women are known for their integrity. I think Jiu Dan has forgotten that she is Chinese or she should not have been born Chinese."

Kelly Zhou, a former student from Shenzhen who is now married to a Singaporean, accuses the author of sensationalism.

"I have more respect for prostitutes because they sell their own bodies and don't hurt anyone else. Jiu Dan is hurting others for her own benefit.

"China is so big. There must be more rich people in China than there are in Singapore. So why would we come here to seduce Singapore men?"

But 22-year-old "Sisi", working illegally as a nightclub hostess while studying for a diploma in English, says Singapore men are a passport to a better life.

"I want to earn as much money as possible before my student pass expires. I want to buy new clothes and I want to buy an apartment when I return home," she said during a break from entertaining customers.

She said her extra curricular activities brought in S$4000 (US$2250) a month in tips alone. She denied she slept with clients, but said colleagues who did earned another $500 a night.

Although Sisi's parents are paying for her studies, some students from China take out loans of up to 50,000 yuan (US$6000) to get to Singapore where they are prohibited from working legally and need to find ways to repay the money.

Jiu Dan says the student prostitution in Wuya is not autobiographical, but is based on what she saw and heard while studying in Singapore in 1995-97.

"They may deny it, but the dream of every Chinese woman when she boards a plane out of China is to find a way to stay overseas. Otherwise, why not just stay in China?" she said.

In the heart of Singapore's Chinatown, a saleswoman told AFP that every weekend she sees "China-born girls, all dressed-up, going to the KTV lounge upstairs with old uncles in their 50s and 60s."

The manager of a downtown luxury watch boutique said young mainland Chinese students and their middle-aged "boyfriends" were regular clients.

"The girls would come by with some girlfriends close to their birthdays and pick a watch. They would then come back days later with their boyfriends and point out exactly what they want."

He said the diamond-encrusted watches they chose cost at least $10,000 and "for the prettier girls, the value of the watches may go up to $20,000."

Wuya has sold 50,000 copies since it was first published in China early this year and an English-language version will hit Singapore bookstores within a month.

Jiu Dan, who says she will continue to strip her people bare by writing two new books "in the same spirit as Wuya," is also in talks with Hong Kong and China producers for a film version of the bestseller.

"I was talking to some film directors in Singapore too, but they have stopped communicating with me. Maybe they are bowing to pressure in their country," she said.

Singapore Minister for Information and the Arts Lee Yock Suan has said the government would not ban Wuya in Singapore as it is just a novel and not pornography.

He said readers could judge for themselves if Wuya reflected reality.