Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Type

Honors Project


College of Liberal Arts

First Advisor

Nurith Zmora


From 1849 to 1943, both Chinese and European prostitutes lived and worked in Shanghai’s French Concession, catering to all the ethnic groups in the city. After the establishment of foreign concessions placed Shanghai under semi-colonial control, French and Chinese culture combined in this area of the city to create a unique urban landscape that was unlike anywhere else in the world. This differentiated prostitution in the French Concession from prostitution in other parts of Shanghai. Over the years, historians have written extensively on how prostitution changed and flourished in Shanghai as a whole, but few focused on the French concession specifically. While other scholars often made generalizations about prostitution in all parts of the city, as though it was all uniformly similar, they failed to take into account how the sexual commodification of “Frenchness” impacted prostitution in this area specifically. Both the writings of contemporary European scholars who visited Shanghai during this time and legal records related to prostitution reveal that the exchange of French and Chinese culture had an impact on the nature of sex work in the French Concession. With French institutions like the maison de rendez-vous, which were secret meeting houses for lovers, becoming an important part of the way that prostitutes sold their services to clients and Russian prostitutes claiming to be French in order to attract more Chinese clients, it is clear that prostitution in the French concession of Shanghai was different from anywhere else in the city. The influence that the French had on sex work in Shanghai illustrates how cultural diffusion can transform people’s lives and the communities they live in. By studying the semi-colonial control France exercised over China during this time period, one can also understand the potential impact that globalization could have on East Asian cultures in the future.








Departmental Honors Projects