Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Geography of Vice: Clandestine Prostitution in Tonkin, 1920-1945

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Wilson B, Mezzanine Level

This paper is a spatial analysis of Tonkin’s black-market sex industry. Geography is an important consideration for the study of informal economies and prostitution in Tonkin due to the terms of the 1884 Patênotre treaty. This treaty created a complicated political geography that maintained Vietnamese rule in Tonkin except for the French concessions of Hanoi, the port city of Hải Phòng, and provincial capitals and military bases. The result was a virtual archipelago of islands of French power in a sea of Vietnamese rule—a situation that allowed black market operatives, including sex workers, madams, and human traffickers to artfully dodge police by slipping across borders.


By plotting on a GIS map the locations mentioned in archival and newspaper sources, I trace the ways that unregistered prostitutes, their managers, clients, and traffickers relied on local geography to hide their illicit activities. Specifically, I map incidents of unregistered prostitution, identify kidnapping hotspots, track trafficking routes, and locate the major clandestine sex markets.  Drawing from data on sex workers’ home villages and movements, I developed a more precise understanding of migration patterns as they relate to historical events and plot the major routes of human trafficking networks.  Using incident reports on venereal disease, I also track the spread of sexually transmitted infections. In short, this paper explores the relationship between changes in urban and industrial geography and those in the black-market sex industry.

Christina Firpo

California Polytechnic State University, California

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2 - Geography of Vice: Clandestine Prostitution in Tonkin, 1920-1945



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