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Reexamining the Abolitionist Movement against Prostitution in Shanghai after 1949

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In 1951, the government of Shanghai announced a movement to abolish prostitution. At that moment, the number of public brothels had already declined dramatically and the government took this opportunity to forcefully portray the favorable image that they had thoroughly rooted out “the poisons of the old society.” Then, in 1958, the city government announced the rehabilitation of prostitutes was complete because more and more women were becoming prostitutes in this “new society.” In a “new society,” this phenomenon composed a threat to the government’s ideology. Therefore, the new government started a campaign of labor reeducation or threw women in jail under the charge of being a vagrant and announced that the system of prostitution which had its base in the old society was now thoroughly eradicated. It was very difficult for these women who were taken in and rehabilitated to assimilate into society; when they were finally settled, the local government and the local populace were asked to continue to “supervise and reform them.” Thus, the women who had no way to become new people under socialism became “old elements” in the new society.


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