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Why Clubbing Can Be Uncomfortable in Beijing

Chinese clubs do not make their money on foreigners. They make their money by selling VIP tables to wealthy Chinese. These VIP tables have every illusion of the Hollywood movies: dry ice, expensive bottles of champagne and vodka kept locked in glass cases which are brought to your table, a plethora of waiters, and as many shot flutes as you can manage. Additionally, VIP tables are almost always accompanied by a fruit platter. (Actually, now that I am thinking about it, most social functions in China are accompanied by a fruit platter.)

The question is, subsequently, how can one club get more VIPs coming to their club than to other clubs? Creating a more electrifying environment. And how do you create an electrifying environment? Foreigners. A large number of the DJs at these clubs are foreign and the clubs often invest in dance teams of white women who wear very little clothing and dance on platforms throughout the club. Many of them also invest in a western singing/dancing team. When the DJ takes a break, they will sing and a dance around the club like they are in a music video. Some are women and others are very muscular men. Black men (both African and African American) are particularly in demand, giving the club a “rap appeal.”

Of course, a club can’t just have western entertainment; they have to have foreigners enjoying themselves there, too. There are two ways that clubs do this: they pay westerners as promoters to give away free entrance and “free drinks all night” cards to foreigners, in order to get them to show up. It sounds like heaven to alcohol-thirsty students. However, there is a dark side to this: many people (myself included) question whether the drinks given at the open bar or through the “free drinks all night” card are legitimate alcohol. While there is no doubt that the VIP tables are drinking Grey Goose vodka, it is quite possible that the “Grey Goose” that your drink was poured from was actually a cheaper substitute poured into an old Grey Goose bottle.

Additionally, many clubs also pay what they call “models,” “gogos,” and “champagne girls” to show up. These models (mostly white females) must be attractive and must be dressed immaculately. They are given VIP tables at these clubs. They are expected to flirt around with the Chinese patrons and dance on the dance floor. (It is insinuated that possibly there are more services that they could provide, based on their fleets of designer purses.)

I found myself in a couple of WeChat groups advertising this type of jobs all around China – not just in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but second, third, and fourth tier cities, as well. Naturally, this is the type of work that does not provide a work visa, but women can make about 12,000 RMB per month from a club, as well as free accommodation in a hotel and free meals. (They can also make tips, which are theirs.) Almost all of these job advertisements are in the Russian language.

This is very interesting as we consider the future China-Russian relations. That 12,000 RMB that a Russian woman can earn as a dancer in a Chinese club is over 106,000 rubles. According to a 2015 article, the average monthly salary in Moscow is 61,200 rubles. Outside of Moscow, the average salary for a city dweller is 36,800 rubles. China’s economic growth, coupled with its fetish for everything foreign has created a perfect storm: Russian women are coming to China in droves (and often illegally) to take on work, that is exploitative of their bodies.

This has created quite a few uncomfortable situations for me. Once, when I went to a classmate’s hometown and we decided to spend a night singing in a private room we rented at a karaoke bar, we were approached by a group of older men, asking how much it would cost for me to come and sing with them. (My friend got very angry with them and they apologized once they figured out I was American.) Out of the very few times that I have ventured out into the Beijing nightlife, I was almost always led to a VIP table (rather than being given the “free drinks all night” cards.) I know that this is solely because the way I look and I found myself very uncomfortable at the extent of the objectification I felt the whole night by both Chinese men and women. That being said, I have many friends in similar positions who enjoy being given free drinks and do not mind being objectified – so to each her own, I suppose.

One of my best friends is Russian, although she is from an ethnic minority group. We were talking about this topic the other day. The power of China’s purse and Russia’s proximity to China is providing a plethora of new opportunities to Russian women – as models, traders, fashion designers, promoters, agents, etc. However, unfortunately, there are at least a few victims. Chinese work visas are hard to come by – nearly impossible for people without a bachelor’s degree – and subsequently, many of the women come on tourist visas, making them vulnerable to their employers and the agent which brought them to China. While I was unable to corroborate my friend’s stories, she told me that she was warned that some Russian women had been kidnapped and forced to marry men in the countryside (where there is an over surplus of men left over from the One Child Policy.) As these communities are very close-knit and the women have limited linguistic skills or cultural know-how, it can be difficult for them to escape. When I asked my friend why this wasn’t a bigger deal, she replied, “It is not in Russia’s best interest to antagonize China. Also, these women are often from poor families with little political impact in Russia.” While these are little more than rumors, one could easily see how changing economic circumstances can make this a reality.