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Dangerous Pleasures: Prostitution and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Shanghai (Philip E.Lilienthal Books) Paperback – February 16, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0520204393 ISBN-10: 0520204395

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Product Details

  • Series: Philip E.Lilienthal Books
  • Paperback: 591 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (February 16, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520204395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520204393
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,291,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Hershatter provides a model of the use of a single theme as a window through which to experience and interpret the intellectual, political, social, and economic history of a given place. . . . Her approaches to historiography and theory are challenging and informative. The book is compelling, complex, and extraordinarily readable: a book to be bought, lent, read, discussed, and treasured."--Lenore Manderson, "Journal of Historical Geography

About the Author

Gail Hershatter is Professor of History and Co-Director of the Center for Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of The Workers of Tianjin, 1900-1949 (1986), coauthor of Personal Voices: Chinese Women in the 1980s (1988), and co-editor of Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State (1994).

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Customer Reviews

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth W. Movius on February 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
Dangerous Pleasures is hands-down one of the best Shanghai history books available. It is also one of the most pleasurably readable "academic" books I've encountered. It takes the obviously sensational topic of prostitution in the "Wh*re of the Orient" and treats it with candor and humor, not stooping to either exploiting the sensationalism or stifling it under a heavy woolen blanket of academic deconstruction.
Hershatter - who enjoys a well-deserved reputation as one of the foremost social historians of Chinese women and of Shanghai - depicts and dissects the prostitutes and the moralists alike, and without condescending moralism. She explains and then adopts the more relaxed Eastern attitude towards the sex trade, which is important in understanding the deeper culture of the courtesan in late Qing and Republican China.
The western world is already familiar with Japan's Geisha culture, but China's equally rich courtesan tradion - perhaps because it early attacks by missionaries and abolition by the Communists, those stodgiest of prudes - has less to capture the world's imagination.
Shanghai's historical prostitution ran the gamut, from the rarified courtesans to the White Russians to taxi dancers to the cheap bang for the buck street-walking "Ye Ji" ("wild chicken"!), and Hershatter touches on them all in this exhaustive project, but her primary interest lies with the courtesans.
A young girl would be "apprenticed" (essentially sold, as with all apprenticeships of the era) to a brothel, where she would grow up learning the arts of hospitality while developing talents in singing, musical instruments, dance, poetry, and painting - the pretensions of China's traditional scholar class.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kya on February 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I agree with the reviewer who states this is a great book to learn about Shanghai. The prostitution "hierarchy" of 1890 through 1930's and forward is delineated. Since prostitution does not exist in a vacum, a lot of information and details about history, culture, media, population groups, etc. in and around Shanghai is introduced. May 5th revolutionaries, CCP policies, and post Cultural revolution developments are glimpsed. It seems amusing that CCP propaganda supports the view that prostituion in China, or lets say Shanghai, is a Western import. Most interesting is not Hershatter's thesis, but the description of "Courtesan" houses/prostitutes in the late 1800s to 1918. Sexually transmitted diseases were generally not attributed to "Courtesan" prostitutes, but to low level street walkers (wild chickens), "nail shed" workers, "opium den" workers, etc. Like all romantic fallacies concerning 19th/20th century courtesans, this was pure myth.
A fascinating book packed with loads of information. information.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Anna Vincent on October 5, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is an exhaustively researched book, incredibly detailed and well thought. I highly recommend it, though it’s not for the light reader, it’s for those interested in a thorough piece of the history of courtesans and prostitutes.

The absolute best thing about this book is the author’s dedicated to uncovering truth. Hershatter is incredibly well researched; nothing is missed by her.

Below are two of the book’s main elements that stood out the most to me: First, the methodology and the author’s analysis on historical evidence; second, the sections of the book about courtesans (high rather than low-end prostitutes) .

First:
Hershatter’s analysis of the limited historical evidence available on prostitutes. She points out that women in general were typically written by men, but even more so with prostitutes, which gives modern day researchers a distorted perspective on who these women actually were.

Hershatter explains that the existing evidence on Shanghai courtesans is less a portrait of these women as individuals, than a casting of them into two stereotypes: that of the honorable, moral, and loving courtesan, or that of the untrustworthy, cruel, and cunning courtesan. “Very seldom did these stories present a courtesan of complex or contradictory character” (p. 143). Hershatter explains that when looking at evidence of the lives of courtesans, this is the sort of writing that misleads the reader, offering stereotypes developed by men, rather than genuine portrayals of individual women.

Hershatter’s frustration with lack of evidence about courtesans is apparent throughout the book, as was her admirable determination to uncover an accurate portrayal of the lives of courtesans and prostitutes.
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By Oona Deane on October 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is very academic, if that's your bag. It is mine
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14 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
Gail Hershatter in Dangerous Pleasures presents a picture of a multi-layered discursive terrain in her case in studying Shanghai prostitution. She focuses on the rapid industrialization transformation of the city at the turn of the century. From the beginning, she acknowledges the limitation and the impossibility in retrieving the voices of prostitutes and confronts the subjectivity of the sources: ¡§All historical records are products of a nexus of relationships that can be only dimly apprehended or guessed at across the enforced distance of time, by historians with their own localized preoccupations.¡¨ (4) Prostitution should be understood through the shifting and multiple meanings of categories and the discourses of different issues: The category views through which prostitution was understood were not fixed, and tracing them requires attention to questions of urban history, colonial and anti-colonial state making, and the intersection of sexuality, particularly female sexuality, with an emerging nationalist discourse. (4)
Poststructuralist theory seems to be a potential solution to the problem since it makes the historian more attentive to the process of contextualization of sources in producing the historical narrative and ¡§the trace of craft, as well as the crafty presentation or concealment.¡¨ (13) Using this method, Hershatter eschews the structuralist approach and creates room for broader themes and interpretations. Her approach can be analyzed through several themes that connect her narrative: the writings by male authors that constitute and symbolize masculinity discourse, the classification and naming that form the dominant ideology, and the representations of prostitutes as a human agents.
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