Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi

Luc XiWhat does it mean when a city of 180,000 people has more than 5,000 women working as prostitutes? This question frames Vu Trong Phung’s 1937 classic reportage Luc Xi. In the late 1930s, Hanoi had a burgeoning commercial sex industry that involved thousands of people and hundreds of businesses. It was the center of the city’s nightlife and the source of suffering, violence, exploitation, and a venereal disease epidemic. For Phung, a popular writer and intellectual, it also raised disturbing questions about the state of Vietnamese society and culture and whether his country really was “progressing” under French colonial rule. Translator Shaun Kingsley Malarney’s thoughtful and multifaceted introduction provides historical background on colonialism, prostitution, and venereal disease in Vietnam and discusses reportage as a literary genre, political tool, and historical source. A fully annotated translation of Luc Xi follows, in which Phung takes readers into the heart of colonial Hanoi’s sex industry, portraying its female workers, the officials who attempted to regulate it, the doctors who treated its victims, and the secretive medical facility known as the Nha Luc Xi (“The Dispensary”), which examined prostitutes for venereal diseases and held them for treatment.

“Among the most celebrated works of Vietnamese non-fiction reportage, Vu Trọng Phụng’s Luc Xi illuminates the culture of prostitution and the politics of venereal disease prevention in colonial Hanoi. Shaun Malarney’s translation of the text is both elegant and accurate and his detailed introduction provides useful historical context while advancing an important argument about social imbalances embedded within the institutions of colonial medicine. This is an exceptional work of historical scholarship.” —Peter Zinoman, University of California, Berkeley

Southeast Asia: Politics Meaning and Memory
November 2010 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3467-8 / $45.00 (CLOTH)