Sex Work and Stigma Management in China and Hong Kong: The Role of State Policy and NGO Advocacy

Susanne Y.P. CHOI*, Ruby Y.S. LAI

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the impacts of state policies and NGO advocacy on female sex workers’ identity and how they manage stigma. Comparing three groups of sex workers – those born and working in mainland China, those born and working in Hong Kong, and those born in mainland China who later migrated to Hong Kong and entered the sex industry – this paper suggests that differences in state policies on prostitution and the different degrees of visibility of NGOs campaigning for sex workers’ rights are related to three strategies used by sex workers to construct a positive self-image to counteract the stigma they face: gendered obligation fulfilment, professional work and responsible citizenship. The paper illustrates that stigmatized-identity management involves complex relationships among individual interpretation, selection and mobilization of gender, work and citizenship scripts, which are contingent on structural features of the environment and may change during migration and relocation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)855-874
Number of pages20
JournalThe China Quarterly
Early online date22 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by a grant provided by the HKSAR Research Grants Council (Grant No. CUHK442107). We thank the respondents for trusting us and for sharing their stories and experiences with us. We are also grateful to the staff of the NGOs in China and Hong Kong. This research would not be possible without their assistance. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • sex work
  • stigma
  • state policy
  • NGOs
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • 性工作
  • 污名
  • 国家政策
  • 非政府组织
  • 中国


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