The absence of women created a market for prostitution.
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A few Chinese prostitutes at the start of the Gold Rush were independent agents, but the vast majority were chinayown or indentured, which in practice amounted to the same thing. Procurers working for brothel owners in San Francisco scoured the Chinese countryside for young women, whom they kidnapped, lured, or purchased and shipped to San Francisco. Because girls were considered inferior to boys, and could not carry on the ancestral line, families were willing chinafown sell them, mortgage them, or simply kill them if economic circumstances dictated.
Others were lured by promises of gold, marriage, education chonatown jobs. After being shipped to San Francisco, these young women and girls were taken to a barracoon — a temporary holding pen — on St.
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Louis Alley in Chinatown. If they had already been purchased, they were turned over to their owner; otherwise, they were stripped for inspection and sold to the highest bidder.
Little chinstown were also purchased and used as household slaves until old enough to become prostitutes or concubines. The young women were forced to papers they did not understand, agreeing to become prostitutes for four to six years to pay off their passage. The most attractive women became the concubines of wealthy owners and were sometimes treated decently, although if they failed to please their masters they could be returned to the auction block.
Others ended up in higher-class brothels reserved for Chinese men, where they also received somewhat better treatment. Hirata notes that Chinese men believed that the most degrading thing a Chinese woman could do was have sex with a white man. But large s ended up in cribs, shacks frequented by sailors, teenage boys, laborers and drunks, Chinese and white alike, who paid 25 to 50 cents for their services.
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Subjected to dreadful treatment by both owners and customers, most of them contracted venereal diseases and were physically and mentally broken within a few years. At this point, chinaown dreadful ritual took place. When the lamp had gone out, they entered and removed the woman, who was usually dead from starvation or by suicide.
In other cases, the sick prostitutes were simply put out on the street to die. Inthe Alta newspaper reported prostitutlon the bodies of dead prostitutes littered the streets of Chinatown. Some chose to commit suicide by eating raw opium or jumping into the bay.
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Hirata estimates that nearly all the Chinese women in San Francisco in were prostitutes, and that a decade later the total was still 70 percent. Like the other major vice rackets in Chinatown, gambling and opium smoking, prostitution was controlled by the tongs, which had started out as legitimate associations but became criminalized secret societies. San Francisco officials were well aware that the brothels of Chinatown were a moral outrage. It was, of course, a false argument, since white prostitutes were not slaves, but it was effective.
White racism toward Chinese was partly responsible for the official tolerance: No one would have allowed white women to be treated like this. But payoffs and greed played a role, too.
City attempts to close down the brothels were resisted by the white owners of the properties, who were making big profits. And when Chief Burke tried arresting the prostitutes, the Board of Supervisors intervened and gave control of prostitution to a panel of doctors. InBurke was replaced as chief by Patrick Crowley, whose laxer attitudes toward vice were more in tune with city sensibilities.
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Crowley sent police Capt. Douglas — the same officer who had deported Chinese slave girls five years earlier — with 18 officers and additional special officers to meet the women at the Brannan Street docks.
How early sf police delivered sex slaves to the brothels of chinatown
A similar scene played out eight months later, when a steamer with Chinese women arrived. Douglas again escorted them to a barracoon on St. Louis Alley in Chinatown, where they were distributed to the chinwtown that had ordered them. The Examiner viewed these goings-on with suspicion.
of hookers operating out of at least eight Chinese massage parlors, The slim strip of 40th Road in Flushing's Chinatown, just a short walk. But for the hundreds of low-income Asian migrant sex workers and chair across the street from a brothel decorated with Chinese red lanterns. Can cities make space for sex workers in their economy? a collective of Chinese massage parlor workers in New York City that formed after Even though no known COVID clusters have originated on public transit yet.
The newspaper called for an investigation. The victims of the trade seemed doomed to their fate.
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Then a guardian angel appeared, in the form of an indomitable young Protestant missionary named Donaldina Cameron. Her long struggle to save the sex slaves of Chinatown will be the subject of the next Portals.
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