This might be notes toward something, but it doesn't really go anywhere. I was walking along the streetcar line that runs through Arakawa Ward, a couple days ago. I was thinking for the first time in a long time about the ballrooms in Dalian. I don't know where that memory went. But I was somewhere east of Machiya and north of the northernmost traces of the Korean neighborhood around Mikawashima, and a streetcar went by and I thought about watching the trains enter their yard in Dalian, over by the Tianxing Roosevelt Center and the intersection of Xi’an Lu and Wuyi Lu. The Arakawa Line and the Dairen trams, formerly part of the South Manchuria Railway, were created by the same industrial policy and started running around the same time, about a century ago. I like to imagine that some of the men who laid down the Arakawa Line were shipped out to Manchuria to work on the railway there, but who knows? (But I think they used German rolling stock in Dairen and I know they used Japanese rolling stock for the Arakawa Line.)
Whoever laid these tracks wouldn’t have recognized either city, a century in the future. That section of Arakawa would have been burned down and flooded out at least three or four times before being reduced to ash in the firebombing of the Second World War, and the buildings that went up after that were pulled down decades ago. Over a hundred years, Dalian changed its name and boundaries several times, most of the Japanese architecture and all of the Russian buildings were pulled down, and almost everything that went up in its place has already been pulled down, too, rapidly replaced as the city became the Hong Kong of the North under Bo Xilai. The only signs of Japanese influence are the hotels, and those are much later, Bubble Era ventures, and then a few cabarets and massage places, and a handful of good sushi restaurants. The tram in Dalian is a reminder of Japanese imperialism, but is now decrepit and running on borrowed time. The tram in Arakawa is a reminder of late Meiji urbanization, industrialization, and modernization, but is now operated for tourists, transportation otaku, and the early Showa baby boom generation. I used to live alongside the Arakawa tracks, when I lived with ***** in Oku. We were living in a postwar shack that had been turned into a sharehouse. Everytime the streetcar went by, you could feel it. Later, we moved down the tracks to Minowa, where I could appreciate the tram as a tourist might, seeing it occasionally as it pulled into the station attached to the shopping arcade at its eastern terminus. I'm trying to remember whether or not I ever actually rode the Dalian streetcar. I don’t think I did. But I used to spend a lot of time down where the streetcars came off the line, down by Wuyi Lu.
I’d take the bus in from Pao’ai and wander around the neighborhood alone, sometimes to watch the trains and sometimes to wander around, looking for something to do. It was one of the grimmest neighborhoods left in downtown Dalian. Since it was centrally-located and had become an island in a sea of development, I’m guessing the original residents jumped ship, predicting that they’d be forced out eventually, and maybe they held onto their rooms and rented them out. Trying to picture it now, I realize I never saw it by daylight. There were a few apartment blocks surrounding wide courtyards, then narrow streets running out from them. Nobody that lived there was from Dalian but had come to the city looking for work. It was mostly men, working construction or trying to find jobs, crashing in tiny rooms, then all the businesses that catered to them. There were tiny restaurants and hair-washing places, a few internet bars, liquor stores, hole-in-the-wall convenience stores, shit like that…
Women patrolled with laminated signs advertising the flophouses. Other women, with faces painted white, gathered in groups under the overpass, pecking at men as they passed. That is what I remember most clearly—all the women. They came out at dusk, a few under the overpass but most them out in the courtyards between buildings, and on the streets around *** *** Ballroom, standing motionless in the cold, sometimes drifting into groups, calling out to men as they passed. They were just like Cao Zhenglu’s “sentries under the neon lights,” heavy makeup and heavy jackets, trying to make enough to get by. *** *** Ballroom was right in the center of the neighborhood. It was a low, concrete building with its name in lights up top. I watched rough-looking men and older women in short dresses walking in, pushing aside the army green blanket over the door. The first time I went past the blanket, a man stopped me just inside the door, and asked me if I knew what kind of place it was. I told him I’d been there before, paid the three kuai entry, and went in. (In Tokyo, a place like that, I would surely be turned away. Those bans on foreign customers are usually restricted to fuzoku operations but not always. The strangest incident I've ever had involved a hot dog-themed girls bar in Sapporo, which I entered with ***** and got kicked out before I could take a seat, and the most recent was while trying to get my hair cut at a barbershop near Asakusa. In China, there's not much danger of being turned away, but the real goings-on are always below the surface, anyways, and can be hidden from outsiders, and the only real inconvenience will be being noticed and afforded greater hospitality or deference.)
There was a sort of antechamber, with two disorganized rows of women. It was a bit like a KTV lineup in the glory days of KTV lineups, but most of the women looked like KTV girls off shift, dressed in street clothes, eye makeup smudged. The women outside the *** *** Ballroom, working in the courtyard and on the street and under the overpass were usually in their late-thirties or forties, but these women were in their late-twenties or early-thirties, although it was hard to tell. I walked past them into what looked like any other nightclub anywhere else in the country, with a bar, a couple tables, and a dancefloor. The music was loud. It was a folk song set to a pounding disco beat. I leaned against the wall and smoked a few cigarettes. A couple women—older women, with short, tight dresses—patrolling the room sidled up to me, asking for a dance, but most ignored me. A short man in a corduroy jacket motioned me over to his table and asked me where I was from and what I was doing there. I told him I had come for a look. He jutted his chin toward the dancefloor, where I saw that he had been watching a man and woman dancing. The women’s skirt was pulled up over her thighs and the man was very tenderly fingering her. When the song was finished, the lights came up a bit and the couple separated. I didn’t know the term shawuting 砂舞厅 at the time, and I had never heard of a moba 摸吧 or momo wuting 摸摸舞厅 or heiwuting 黑舞厅 or heisanqu 黑三曲 or fufei wuting 付费舞厅. He explained the basics: men pay women to dance with them, and when the lights dim, there is the option to grope and fondle and to be groped and fondled, and other things can be negotiated.
The short man said, “The prettiest xiaojie out there, they might be renyao.” It took me finally catching sight of one of these particularly pretty xiaojie to figure out what he meant. I don’t think I had ever heard the word renyao before, which he was using to refer to the many transwomen in the club. (If I had been writing this at the time, I would be less cautious about what I'm describing here but:) I had been curious about the transgender sex workers around Wuyi Lu. The corduroy man was correct: the prettiest xiaojie out there, they were renyao. But, first of all, would they have identified themselves as trangender? Kuaxingbie 跨性别, transgender, seems to be the preferred term of younger Chinese acquaintances, but would these people have had—remember, this was a while ago, maybe six or seven years now—the same awareness. Would they identify themselves as renyao 人妖? I wouldn’t think so. (I recommend a paper by Yiu Fai Chow that appeared in Transgender Studies Quarterly, “Yao, More or Less Human,” which is about a sex worker who does use renyao to refer to herself, and contains a more lengthy discussion of the term. I am forced to refer to academic work because I was too shy to ask during my one shot.)
That was Y***, who I met outside *** *** Ballroom, in a McDonalds not too far away, a few days after my first visit. I won’t describe her because I’ve long since forgotten her face and even this conversation is hazy. I think I recognized her, and I think I saw her coming to the upstairs area where I was sitting and asked her to sit down or she asked to sit down. She told me she was from Tianjin but had been in Shenyang from the time she was seventeen until just over a year ago, when she moved to Dalian. She was happy to explain that she worked at *** *** Ballroom. We made pleasant conversation and I was too shy to ask: "Do the men there know that you are different?" The short man in the corduroy jacket might have, but I suspect that most wouldn't. But I'll never know. Y*** invited ** ** ** *** **** *** **** ** ****** **** ** *** **** ********** ******* * **** **** ********* *** *** *** ***** ** *** ********** **** ** *** **** *** ************ ***. *** ******* *** ******** ****** ****** *** ********** * ***** ***** **** ** * *** ** ********** ** **** ******. ****** *** ** ******* ******** *** ***** *** *********. * ********* ****** **** *** ****** **. She was too cagey and I was too much of a gentleman to pry any further or even steer the conversation toward those sorts of topics.
The place that Y*** recommended was in the basement of a building at the bottom of the ramp up to the overpass. I heard music inside but I couldn’t find the door. I eventually asked a woman that was working outside, who did her best to persuade me that my money would be better spent on her, then reluctantly directed me to a nearby place, ******** Ballroom. ******** Ballroom was a slightly more upscale venture (I had heard *** *** Ballroom was the filthiest of all options), with a row of tables behind the bar, where men sat with women after dancing. I sat with a girl at ******** Ballroom for an hour or so, that first night, trying to talk over the music. Her name was Z**** X**, just like ******’s Mongolian friend, who I had quietly been in love with in ******. She was from—and I’m struggling to remember the details, so this is all unreliable, if it even matters—Sichuan, and had come up to work in Dalian only a few months before I met her. She lived in a room not far from *** *** Ballroom and survived off working nights there. Most of the girls there, she told me, were from the countryside, and she was originally, too, but her parents had abandoned her when she was two or three years old, and she’d grown up in a village outside Leshan. She was twenty-three and had a husband and child. Her husband was in Xi’an and their daughter had been left with his parents. This conversation cost me the equivalent of a meal for two and a bottle of liquor at a nearby restaurant.
I suppose I was a lot like the other men that engaged her services. I was a long way from home. I was bored. I was lonely. The trips down to Wuyi Lu, if you asked me at the time, I might have admitted some of it was a self-destructive impulse, like, some attempt to wash myself clean in dirty water, and I’m sure I would have talked about how I was starved for some kind of authentic experience. I like to think there was some professional consideration, too, since I needed things to write about (if I hadn’t gone, what would I be writing about right now?) But I guess it isn’t much more complicated than being bored and lonely.
I went back the next evening and paid to dance with a girl named M*******. I can't dance but it didn't matter. It was basically like slow dancing in the high school gym, but I knew I should put my hands on her hips, rather than draping them over her shoulders. The dancehall smelled like body odor and disinfectant, and she smelled like cooking steam and winter air and vanilla perfume. I remember the feeling of her warm back through her dress. We sat together for a while in two uncomfortable rattan chairs, making small talk. She was from down south, too, it turned out, and worked sometimes in a canteen attached to one of the wholesale markets down by the train station.
It seemed interesting to me, at the time, that a man of limited means was willing to spend more for time in contact and conversation with a woman at *** *** Ballroom than he would at one of the nearby barber shops, which provided the most basic of sexual services. Of course, there was more on offer than dancing and conversation. But I guess it’s the same everywhere, companionship costs more than sex. For what you would spend on a chaste night at a kyabakura in Tokyo—exchanging chit-chat and dirty jokes and shots of whiskey, maybe a kiss on the cheek and the trade of contact details to close—you could finance a week or so of daily pinsaro visits. Men pay for ninety minute appointments with their deriheru girl, even though climax will be reached in the first fifteen or twenty, because they treasure the moments before and after: a shower together, maybe, and then curling up in a love hotel bed, chatting about whatever. (It’s hard enough to make a living selling sex, but selling intimacy, for some people, is even harder. It’s the reason why some girls would rather work for a deriheru than a kyabakura, and would prefer a sixty minute booking to a ninety minute booking, even if the final bill is smaller. Jason Itzler, who claims to have pioneered the marketing of the girlfriend experience, exhorted his employees "to repeat a mantra to themselves before meeting their client, to the effect that he was actually her boyfriend of six months standing, whom she had not seen for three weeks.")
Much of the discussion online emphasizes that the women that work in ballrooms are very different from the women that work in saunas or barber shops or KTVs: many are amateurs, rather than hardened professionals, and there is, sometimes, an amount of seduction required (or imagined: you can pay for sex and you can pay for companionship but you can't pay to be wanted or lusted after or loved). Women that work in saunas and KTVs tend, in my experience, to think of themselves as sex workers—I mean, they think of themselves as belonging to that separate nighttime world of women that sell their time, although I'm not sure many would use such a formal term. They might say "night work" or "this kind of work" or some other euphemism. But the women that sold their time in the dance halls, I suppose they would have agreed with the men that bought their time, that they were amateurs, often not forced to kick back to a boss, and sometimes only rarely selling anything beyond a dancefloor grope (some women even expressed disbelief to me that anything beyond that was for sale, although perhaps they were just being polite or didn't get my very shy nudging to get them to talk about that). What they were doing had plenty of history, too, even if they might have been unaware of it, and it was only sixtysomething years before there had been a craze for commercial ballrooms and paid companionship that was "converting sing-song girls into taxi-dancers" (John Pal's memoir, quoted in Andrew Field's Shanghai's Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919-1954.) Field describes one of the tabloids of the time:
Jingbao expanded to six pages—enough space to accommodate a daily half-page section titled "The dancing world" (Wuguo), signaling the institutionalization of dancing discourse. ... Articles in "The dancing world" favored gossip about specific dancing hostesses, as well as poems and interviews written about and by dancing hostesses, regular columns such as "Secret news" (Mibao) and "Bedside diaries" (Chuangtou riji), and advice such as "How to speak your heart with dancing hostesses" (Zenyang yu wunu tanquing). At the close of the decade, in the pages of one of Shanghai's most stable and successful "mosquito" papers, the world of the sing-song house was completely overshadowed by the world of the dance hall. (This is from "Selling Souls in Sin City: Shanghai Singing and Dancing Girls in Print, Film, and Politics, 1920-49" in Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai.)This flowering of dance hall culture was shortlived and jiaoyiwu 交谊舞, or social dance, re-emerged within the lifetimes of most of the people that patronized the ballroom in Dalian in the 2010s. There were work unit dances and whatnot at first, and then dance halls in hotels, catering to foreigners, and then a few of the old dance halls are re-opened. Maybe it was—especially in Shanghai, definitely—a rehabilitation of Republican Era Shanghai dance culture, but also a discovery of Taiwan and Hong Kong dance culture, transmitted into the Mainland through Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
It was a mostly urban working class recreation, those first dance halls that opened up in places like Chengdu and Shanghai and Shenzhen. I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, but just imagine! It’s 1982, you’re dancing cheek-to-cheek with the prettiest girl in your danwei as a cassette tape of “Nanping Evening Bell” comes out the tinny speakers of an old PA system, echoing off the concrete walls of an air raid shelter…And of course, it wasn’t all chaste slow dancing to Teresa Teng songs. A 1980 editorial on social dancing emphasized the "social and health benefits of dance," while warning against "the creeping commercialization of dance halls and the reemerging practice of people dancing for money (like the old taxi dancers)" (this is quoted in Shanghai Nightscapes: A Nocturnal Biography of a Global City by James Farrer and Andrew David Field).
This would have been at right around the same time as the Campaign Against Spiritual Pollution, following the first sessions of the Twelfth Central Committee and the revision of the Constitution, another push for reform, and attempts to deal with the old guard. There was anxiety about intellectual opening-up and debate about abstract and not very clearly defined concepts like humanism and socialist alienation, but, on a more practical level, the leadership knew that rampant crime and corruption would sink them even faster. A series of decisions by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress targeted liumang fanzui 流氓犯罪, liumang crimes and liumang fanzui jituan 流氓犯罪集团, liumang criminal organization, and authorized the death penalty for dealing with them (see: New Crime in China: Public Order and Human Rights by Ronald Keith and Zhiqiu Lin). Social dancing fell victim to the 1983 strike hard campaign against liumang crimes and the atmosphere of concern over social liberalism.
Ma Yanqin 马燕秦 was made an example of by the authorities, and I’m going to use her as an example myself. She was a single woman in her forties, living in Xi’an with her two adult daughters, and she had been on the radar of the local Public Security Bureau. They knew she was holding parties at her house, so it made sense to round her up when they needed to hit their quota of liumang arrests. She was sentenced to death. As the court records have it: "unemployed long-term, she used her own residence as a meeting place for liumang elements, organized liumang dance parties, seduced young men and women into attending these events and others, and instigated and abetted other forms of liumang crime." She was also accused of prostitution: "[Ma] had sexual relations with several dozen people, receiving at least 2000 yuan for her services. ... She also threatened and lured her two daughters into providing sexual services for various liumang elements." After Ma was arrested, the PSB went to work tracking down everyone who had ever attended the dances, rounding up a few hundred people. Out of those arrested, three others got stayed sentences of death (Li Zhaosheng 李兆胜, Yuan Dingzhi 袁定之, Yang Hefeng 杨和风 were all involved in organizing parties with Ma, and Yang Hefeng’s case was particularly serious because it was alleged he had a foreign student join in a party), a few got life in prison, and Ma Yanqin went in front of a firing squad. (See: 83年严打纪事：“流氓大案”是怎样炼成的 by Yang Shiyang 杨时旸.)
And maybe some brief, incomplete discussion of the term liumang, which has long since been removed from legal codes but is still around, and probably still works to describe the type of people that go to places like *** *** Ballroom. I’m going to refer to myself referring to Chen Baoliang 陈宝良 somewhere else, talking about the etymology of liumang, coming from liumin 流民 or youmin 游民, (mang 氓 and min 民 are sort of interchangeable, and you even have the compound minmeng 民氓, meaning “the common people”), and referring to floating 流 people 氓 not engaged in any reputable trade and possibly of no fixed address (I have in these notes something about a connection to liumeng 流虻, a slang term for rowdy boys of the late Qing in Jiangnan, derived from a type of horsefly, but I can’t be sure what Chen Baoliang was talking about now, without looking up the actual reference, Chen’s History of Chinese Liumang《中国流氓史》, and here I will also recommend Youmin Culture and Chinese Society《游民文化与中国社会》by Wang Xuetai 王学泰, since it's also listed in my very, very old notes). And here is Michael Dutton also referring to Chen Baoliang:
From the etymologically based understanding to a range of activities, the liumang begins to enter contemporary discourse and it is from this that one begins to understand that the term liumang goes beyond criminal activity to incorporate all those people who, in Chen's words, are 'without a place'. To be without a place means more than being without a work unit for here is an understanding of place that goes beyond the spatial. To be without a place means exclusion from the norm and exclusion from an acceptable social position. In China, there is a strict policing of the boundaries of acceptable social behaviour and, while the metaphor of exclusion from the walled compound of the work unit helps one picture the degree of expulsion, it is inadequate in conveying the wider meaning of liumang. (This is from Streetlife China, a work I refer to frequently. Until I looked that up, though, I forgot that Dutton actually translates, further on, an excerpt from the Chen Baoliang book, which is clearly where I got the horsefly thing, and also a Ge Fei 格非 essay about the state of insecurity in the 1980s.)“Liumang” covers, first, all behaviors deemed counterrevolutionary, especially unacceptable sexual behavior. The term is ambiguous, used to denounce a woman who organizes dance parties, and also adulterers and rapists, reducing them to social outcasts. Dance halls are for liumang. In our example, *** *** Ballroom, the women that sell a few songs’ worth of dirty dancing or a blowjob in a dark corner are liumang and so are the men that would go to a place like that.
It’s hard to say how effective the strike hard campaign against the liumang really was. Not all of those arrested were harmless middle-aged women organizing dance parties. Across the country, tens of thousands were sentenced to death (the vast majority, like in the Xi’an case, were sixing huanqi zhixing 死刑缓期执行, stayed sentences of death), and more than a million were incarcerated. There must have been some bad apples in the bunch.
My point, perhaps lost somewhere above, is that the anti-crime crackdown and the Campaign Against Spiritual Pollution were not completely separate. Social dancing was saved as much by Hu Yaobang himself ordered an editorial to end the campaign—”Eliminate spiritual pollution, beautify life”《污染须清除，生活要美化》—as it was by the drawing down of the first strike hard campaign. The editorial opens by congratulating Communist Youth Leagues on joining in ideological warfare against spiritual pollution, but says:
...young women have been censured for perming their hair and wearing makeup, there have been attempts to interfere with young people wearing up-to-date fashions, the very healthy practice of collective dance has been banned, and even the completely benign practice of keeping a flower garden has been criticized. These behaviors have been deemed to be the result of the influence of "bourgeois lifestyles" and classified as "spiritual pollution." Although the number of instances in which these attempts by young people to bring some beauty into their lives were classed as spiritual pollution is quite small, we cannot ignore them.In autumn of 1984, dance halls began to re-open, with heavy restrictions which were eventually lifted in the late 1980s. The dance halls were for the urban working class, local and migrant.
The dongdong wuting 洞洞舞厅 that went into the bomb shelters and basements of Chengdu in the late 1980s seem to have been written about with more fanaticism than elsewhere. Shawu 砂舞 and that term started in Chengdu, probably just to refer the aggressive grinding, which was the product of horny young people in a dark room, escaping from life in a dormitory, and without the option of a love hotel. The dance halls attracted laid off workers, unemployed young people, students, and various liumang (see: 有偿“砂舞”风靡成都 很难界定是否色情). Some brilliant entrepreneur finally figured out that she could charge for a dance—and maybe more! A man from Chengdu recounts an encounter that took place around 1994:
One day, I went to the ballroom to dance and an old lady came up to me and goes, "You wanna dance?" I told her I wasn't interested. Next thing I know, she goes, "I could suck you off." It blew my mind. I'd never come across anything like that before. I asked her how much it'd be and she said thirty, which sounded decent to me, so we went off to where it was dark... I left there and told all my friends, and they were dying to try it for themselves, and I bet she ended up blowing them, too... It was around that time that women started charging for dances, too. (This is from Memories of Chengdu Shawu《成都砂舞回忆录》)The history of ballrooms in Dalian tracks closely the more carefully-recorded history of Chengdu ballrooms: dance halls proliferated in the ‘90s, faced crackdowns and increased competition in the 2000s, then came back in the 2010s, fewer in number, and still home to about the same migrant and local urban liumang that had been going out to them since the ‘90s.
I say “about the same migrant and local urban liumang,” but I know there’s a problem with this claim. By the time I was going to the ballrooms around Wuyi Lu, most of the dancers and their customers were migrant workers, rather than local residents. I met people from all across Northeastern China and the Central Plains, and many of the women were from Sichuan and Hunan, but nobody was from Dalian. The kid that would have snuck out to a ballroom in the 1980s was going to the same clubs I frequented in the entertainment district northwest of Minzhu Square, or to more modest clubs around the city, or to KTVs. It was just about walking distance between those Minzhu Square clubs and the Wuyi Lu ballrooms but they were existed in different worlds. Minzhu Square was popular with middle class kids but also just slightly more adventurous young people, and cosmopolitan, full of Russians freshly down from Vladivostok or Khabarovsk and students from Africa and the Middle East, and the language was English as much as Mandarin (and even those clubs seemed a bit old-fashioned compared to the more elite spots that rich kids drove out to—and those places seemed laughably provincial compared to nouveau riche hot spots in Shanghai, and those places, if relocated to Tokyo, would be more at home in a provincial capital than they would in Dogenzaka).
I always thought of the Chinese club as mostly sexless. They tend to be for communal celebration, bottle service and a booth, rather than individual pairing off, and that even holds mostly true in those cosmopolitan, foreigner-friendly spots (and I’m comparing them to their equivalents in Tokyo or Vancouver or London). Those places are more about the consumption of a cosmopolitan sexual culture, I think, and voyeurism, than they are about actually fucking. I went out every night that I could and I went out with the intention of picking up a girl, and I was only successful often enough to keep me going back. The dance hall is a place to go by yourself. They are also—lifting W. David Marx’s description of kyabakura—theme parks of traditional gender roles. In places like *** *** Ballroom, you can live out life as you think it should be, and the xiaojie are discouraged from turning you down.
In Farrer’s Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai, he notes that many of the young people going out to “disco pubs” in Shanghai were unaware of the parallel world of social dance halls. The regular type of social dance hall slowly disappeared and heiwuting were more plentiful, in Dalian, at least—and I’m sure none of my Minzhu Square friends were aware of *** *** Ballroom. A different kind of man goes to a place like *** *** Ballroom.
I was thinking about the story that Y*** told me, about how, when she was in Shenyang, she lived with a man that she met in a dance hall. He was working on a demolition project, and she used to look forward to him coming home, so that she could fill a basin with hot water and soap, and scrub the grime from his body and then rub liniment into his back. She picked fights with him and begged to be hit, but even that he did tenderly. He was in his fifties and eventually decided to return home to his wife and son, and she admired that about him, too. Now, was Y***’s lover a bad man? Maybe. He did hit her, after all, even if she remembered the bruises fondly. Would he have stayed with her if she had a womb? She thought so. But what she appreciated about him was that type of masculinity that is now outmoded or unnecessary or unappreciated in urban China and beyond. These men are "not compatible with the national ideology of modernization" (see: Gender, Modernity and Male Migrant Workers in China: Becoming a 'Modern' Man by Xiaodong Lin), and they make a living with their bodies rather than their minds. They are disconnected from all sources of power in the cities where they live. There is nothing for them at a club or KTV. It brings to mind the controversy that erupted following the publication of Jia Pingwa’s Broken Wings《极花》and the broadsides against male chauvinism and zhinanai 直男癌, toxic masculinity. One review of the book chastized Jia for not moving with the times:
Our major cities are now relatively egalitarian. Writers of the Jia’s generation don’t seem to understand that. They can't stand to see how things are going. They don't understand new thoughts and new emotions. They can't deal with the equality of men and women, or people that don't want to get married, or all the various sexual orientations. (This is from a review by Hou Hongbin 侯虹斌, which I have previously translated excerpts from.)Some men are more equal than others, no matter how “relatively egalitarian” the cities have become. And that is why some men go to *** *** Ballroom and some are in Minzhu Square.
But maybe I'm heading in the wrong direction. The ballrooms are theme parks of traditional gender roles because traditional gender roles don't belong in the postsocialist city. These places operate, too, on the logic of the city that says love can be bought, and companions can be upgraded, as long as you can afford it. The men that pay for the attention of the dancers want to be complimented on their masculine charms and tanned forearms but they have to pay for the pleasure. The women are probably making more money from them, if they’re only in the ballroom to supplement their regular income, and, somewhere, maybe in the same city, a man is waiting for them to come home safely. Not many are as lucky as Y***’s lover, with a wife waiting back in the village and a woman in the city to rub liniment into his sore muscles. It's a good thing he does have that wife back in the village, because he would never be able to stay in the city. The liumang, the youmin, and the diduan renkou 低端人口 don't belong, once their utility is gone.
I'm spinning my wheels here, looking for a conclusion.