Overall, the PRC’s legal response to prostitution is to penalise third party organisers of prostitution. Participants in the prostitution transaction are still usually penalised according to the Chinese system of administrative sanctions, rather than through the criminal code.
Until the 1980s, the subject of prostitution was not viewed as a major concern for the National People’s Congress. The PRC’s first criminal code, the Criminal Law and the Criminal Procedure Law of 1979 made no explicit reference to the activities of prostitutes and prostitute clients. Legal control of prostitution was effected on the basis of provincial rulings and localised policing initiatives until the introduction of the “Security administration punishment regulations” in 1987. The Regulations makes it an offence to “sell sex” (卖淫) and to “have illicit relations with a prostitute” (嫖宿暗娼).
Prostitution only became a distinct object of statutory classification in the early 1990s. Responding to requests from the Ministry of Public Security and the All-China Women’s Federation, the National People’s Congress passed legislation that significantly expanded the range and scope of prostitution controls: the 1991 Decision on Strictly Forbidding the Selling and Buying of Sex and the 1991 Decision on the Severe Punishment of Criminals Who Abduct and Traffic in or Kidnap Women and Children. Adding symbolic weight to these enhanced law enforcement controls was the 1992 Law on Protecting the Rights and Interests of Women, which defines prostitution as a social practice that abrogates the inherent rights of women to personhood.
The PRC’s revised Criminal Law of 1997 retains its abolitionist focus in that it is primarily concerned with criminalising third-party involvement in prostitution. For the first time the death penalty may be used, but only in exceptional cases of organising prostitution activities, involving additional circumstances such as repeated offences, rape, causing serious bodily injury, etc. The activities of first-party participants continue to be regulated in practice according to administrative law, with the exceptions of anyone who sells or buys prostitutional sex in the full knowledge that they are infected with an STD; and anyone who has prostitutional sex with a child under 14 years of age. Since 2003, male homosexual prostitution has also been prosecuted under the law.
The 1997 criminal code codified provisions in the 1991 Decision, establishing a system of controls over social place, specifically places of leisure and entertainment.The ultimate goal is to stop managers and workers within the predominantly male-run and male-patronised hospitality and service industry from profiting from and/or encouraging the prostitution of others. Government intervention in commercial recreation has found concrete expression in the form of the 1999 “Regulations concerning the management of public places of entertainment”. The provisions proscribe a range of commercial practices that characterise the activities of female “hostesses”. These laws have been further reinforced via the introduction of localised licensing measures that bear directly on the interior spatial organisation of recreational venues.
- 1987 Security administration punishment regulations (中华人民共和国治安管理处罚条例).
- 1991 Decision on Strictly Forbidding the Selling and Buying of Sex (严禁卖淫嫖娼的决定).
- 1991 Decision on the Severe Punishment of Criminals Who Abduct and Traffic in or Kidnap Women and Children (严惩拐卖、绑架妇女、儿童的犯罪分子的决定).
- 1992 Law on Protecting the Rights and Interests of Women (妇女权益保障法).
- 1997 revision of Criminal Law of the PRC (中华人民共和国刑法).
- 1999 “Regulations concerning the management of public places of entertainment” (娱乐场所管理条例).