Simon Winchester – The New York Times

Copyright The New York Times
From a review of: THE EAST, THE WEST, AND SEX
A History of Erotic Encounters
By Richard Bernstein
Illustrated. 325 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95.
“…Perhaps that is when it all began to change; perhaps it was long before the wars, in Japan and Vietnam, that brought so many sex-starved soldiers into contact with this apparently magical world. Perhaps the change happened when rich young businessmen, men armed with cash rather than carbines, came East and began to wield more freely what this exchange between Western men and Eastern women was already truly all about: power.
For that is what this book seems to miss, or if not to miss, then not to make as obvious as it should be. Perhaps there is a kernel of truth, as Mr. Bernstein observes, that “the sexual advantage of the Western man in the East is an aspect of Western dynamism, the questing spirit of Europeans, compared with the relative passivity of Asian in these matters.” .
But some will find this an almost insultingly trivial explanation, compared with what is a far more tragic certainty: that whether these sexual transactions occurred centuries ago and involved a sultan with his harem or a daimyo with his geisha, or whether they took place during the Vietnam War and involved a G.I. with his Hong Kong go-go girl, the central truth is always the same. The transactions have always ultimately been based on the same pathetic reality: poor women — and lots and lots of them in those countries that have large populations and place too little value on the female sex — must peddle their bodies and their dignity to whomever has the power to demand them.
In recent years Eastern entrepreneurs, perhaps the tawdriest of all players in an increasingly tawdry business, have cashed in on the trade, creating for millions of foreign visitors the fancy that what is on sale in today’s bars and brothels is somehow mystical, magical and a traditional sacrament of the Orient. It isn’t: it is every bit as much about power and exploitation as if it took place on Eighth Avenue or north of King’s Cross Station. There is absolutely nothing Eastern, nothing magical and nothing exotic about it. It is all just quite desperately sad.”
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