MIDWAY: Beijing ducks

Near the restaurant selling the famous roast ever since the days of ping-pong diplomacy, a new breed of ducks strut their stuff at a popular nightspot in Beijing. They are easy to pick out: in tight clothes and sunglasses, the ducks sway to the beat and scan the seething dance floor.

For many bored women, male prostitutes — yazi, or ducks, after their female equivalents ji, or chicken — have become an increasingly essential part of a girls’ night out. A prostitute named Xiao Yu in his early twenties, who sports a tight red T-shirt with aviators atop spiked hair, is agitated: “I really can’t talk. This is working time.”

Xu, his pimp, runs a tight ship, roaming the club, checking on his boys, ensuring that the women in the private rooms at the back are happy. “Women pay,” he says, “to buy a duck for a few hours of chatting, drinking and flirting. If they then want to rent a hotel room for the night, the price rises.” Many ducks who work here have problems at home; their parents might be divorced or they’re poor.

A duck is fun, Xiao says. “I do it to pay my way through the Central Academy of Drama.” Creating a boom in demand are tourists — moneyed thirty or forty-somethings from Hong Kong who use mainland gigolos to spice up their holidays. “When they get to have sex with a beautiful girl, they are excited. It’s not that bad. It’s just a job.” Once the preserve of bored housewives, younger women increasingly seek after these male prostitutes.

Twenty-six-year-old Jenny and her friends visit karaoke bars where they pay to drink, sing and play dice with attentive young men. Her friends have white-collar jobs, except for one who’s a housewife. She’s bored of sex with her husband, so she spends his money sleeping with yazi. It’s normal. It’s not cheating because it has nothing to do with love;

sex can easily be separated from love. The first time she took a duck home they chatted, listened to music and showered before getting into bed. “I wouldn’t say he was a particularly skilled lover — just average.”

The commercialisation of sex is nothing new as consumerism has created desires that only sex work can satisfy — both for the prostitutes and for their customers, who have the cash for illicit pleasures.