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Prostitution and the politics of venereal disease: Singapore, 1870–98

Warren, J.F. (1990) Prostitution and the politics of venereal disease: Singapore, 1870–98. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 21 (2). pp. 360-383.

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Prostitution in Singapore was linked to economic factors in rural China and Japan. Congenital poverty, weak family economies, and rising economic expectations were all part of a set of prevailing conditions that created a vast source of supply of Chinese and Japanese women and young girls for international traffic. Life in both countries was exceptionally difficult in the second half of the nineteenth century. Although China had considerable wealth, most lived a hand to mouth existence in the over-populated rural areas. Poverty in the villages and outlying districts of southeastern China, where many agrarian families lived on the edge of starvation, not only drove women and girls out of the countryside into the ports but acted as a lever on parents already bowed under financial strain. Privation was a handicap which struck hardest at the daughters of peasants and rural labourers. Unable to feed the many mouths they were responsible for, and suffering from chronic economic insecurity, parents sold their daughters to would be benefactors, totally unaware of the future fate in store for so many of them who were taken to Singapore. Poverty and desperate hungry Chinese families were root causes of brothel prostitution in Singapore at the end of the nineteenth century.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Inquiry
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Copyright: © 1990 The National University of Singapore
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