In China, Babies Sell DVDs

A scene I imagined, based on real events:

> The middle-aged woman knocked on the dingy office door. “Shei ah?” an impatient man’s voice cried from within. “What do you want?”

> “I was hoping I could get a job,” the woman replied. “I have experience selling on the streets, and my friend Xiao Li told me you need DVD vendors.”

> The door opened and the woman was admitted. “Yeah, we do. Not just any DVDs, though. These are adult DVDs. You know how to sell adult DVDs?”

> “Well, I know how to avoid the cops, and I know I should target young men…”

> “No kidding, genius. But do you know the key?”

> “Well, I do have a baby…”

> “Yes! Perfect! That’s it! How old is the baby?”

> “Only 6 months.”

> “Great. We don’t need him talking and screwing up sales. You just need him on one arm while you push these yellow DVDs with the other. Lady, you and that baby of yours were destined to sell my porn DVDs.”

OK, this may seem like a bizarre dialogue, but it’s true that there is a trend in Shanghai of woman holding babies selling adult DVDs. In a group of three women all selling DVDs, all three of them will be holding a baby! I really don’t understand it. I rarely see any other kind of vendor with a baby.

If I were going to buy adult DVDs, (1) I wouldn’t want to buy from a woman, and (2) I certainly wouldn’t want to buy from a woman holding a baby! And yet, on the bridge that crosses Suzhou Creek at West Zhoushan Road, I regularly see these women peddling porn with their babies, and I see men buying them.

Is the Chinese male’s psyche really that different?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. If you’re buying porn on a public street, why does it matter who you’re buying from? Either way it’s pretty awkward and embarrassing.

  2. Don’t you think it has something to do with not getting busted? Or am I looking too kindly on the “Inspect” brigade in thinking that they’d been any less included to cart off/clobber mums with babies than un-babied males?

    Last time I went to Xiangyang there were a fair few mum/baby porn selling teams there too. But still quite a lot of the older model male “six DVD” peddlars.

  3. These ladies also hang around the Jiangning Lu bridge, and the overpass just west of the train station. I have a few theories as to why they all carry babies:

    1) They’re less likely to be arrested/deported. A couple of years ago I heard (but never verified) that waidiren caught illegally selling stuff on the street or begging would be arrested, put on a train, and “deported” from Shanghai — sent back to the countryside. As I heard it, they made an exception for mothers with babies.
    2) The babies are used to make them appear less attractive to their “perverted” customers. Sort of saying, “I’m married with a baby. Just because I sell porn doesn’t mean I want to hear about your sick fantasies.”
    3) Their employers don’t offer daycare services.

  4. Brad,

    1) Yeah, this is likely.

    2) I don’t really understand your logic. You’re saying the babies somehow protect the vendors?

    3) Again, most vendors do not work holding babies. I also wonder if the babies these DVD vendors hold all belong to the women holding them, or if they borrow babies from someone, since a baby seems to be a requirement to sell those DVDs.

  5. I don’t think that a baby is a hard and fast requirement, as I remember some older women selling porn at the foot of that giant steel pedestrian bridge at the Meilong train station without children (tangent question: is it less uncomfortable to buy from a youngish woman with a baby or a woman that could be that woman’s mother?), but it does seem like the most common setup.

    Brad’s option #1 seems pretty likely to me, too…

  6. Had this conversation with a cab driver. He claimed the women stash the DVDs in the baby’s clothing to avoid police searches. Must be harder for the police to crack down on as well, as Brad says above.

  7. Interesting.

    I’m sure you have also noticed the female beggars on Sanlitun carrying babies late at night as well.

    Do you think it’s a different “marketing strategy” from the vendors in Shanghai selling yellow films?

  8. Re: above comment

    In case there’s any question, I was referring to Beijing when I mentioned Sanlitun.

  9. From remarks on the same issue at another China-related forum, – the word is the police cannot arrest mothers with babies. Common sense suggests that this shouldn’t be true officially, but I’d say it’s probably less hustle for the cops just to ignore cases like women with babies. Selling blue flicks undercover…
    They do work without babies though too – I had this kind of experience in Hainan when a woman my mother’s age approached me and my female friend (!), looked me in the eye and repeatedly pleaded to buy a ‘sexee dvd’ – pretty loud at that, and with a policeman in sight, totally giving out a message this is just means to earn some money, not really a willing propagation of filth. A pretty weird feeling though, given all the constituents of the situation, – but seemingly not for her. I wonder if the majority of such vendors even saw what’s on those DVDs, and they certainly don’t care much.
    But might be that it’s just a natural distribution of what’s natural. You know, Hainan, Li and Miao peoples, natural causes of natural ways…))

  10. Babies like boobies too? I think it’s just to ward off cops, as was said. If you’re selling DVDs and you have a baby, are you more or less likely to be selling porn? Everyone would think less likely. Once the cops figure it out, they’ll switch the babies to the regular DVD sellers.
    Maybe having a baby makes the woman appear more desperate for cash, so pity is added to the battle of public embarassment vs. horniness.
    “Dude, you bought porn off the street?”
    “Hey, she’s got a kid to feed.”

  11. I also heard about that “loophole” that they can’t bust moms with babies.I will admit to having purchased one of these VCDs. It was the lamest thing ever.Some kind of kung fu sex movie. Not hardcore at all.Would probably get an “R” rating,in the states.Good for laughs,though.

  12. Justin (Parasite) Says: January 20, 2006 at 10:14 am

    Man you guys are just sad, quit making random conjectures about something you have no experience with. If it is right in front of your face, and costs like 10 kuai, do you really think you are qualified to comment if you haven’t bought one ? Damn straight they aren’t affraid of the cops — their job is to make YOU think they are, so that you will believe their DVDs have some sort of erotic content. Well someone I heard about, and I’d bet my life on the trustworthyness of their claim, spent more than 100 yuan trying out a LARGE VARIETY of such vendors, even one who pretended to not want to sell to me, because the guy was a student, and she was worried said person’s teachers would discover the DVDs in said person’s room, and then he would turn her in — but finally she agreed to sell, to that person I was saying. Anyhow do you know what was on her DVDs ? ’80s old school TRANSFORMERS cartoons. The rest of the vendors just had some shitty 1970’s Hong Kong movies on their DVD’s. For those of you desperate enough — all I can say to you is AT LEAST if you buy the body painting and pregnancy guide VCDs in the government’s Xinhua bookstore chain you can see some nudity. Those street vendors have nothing but rubbish.

  13. wow! babies sell DVDS? i was really shocked when i saw the title ,but got cool after readin thru the post. hmm… one thing i gotta say that ppl are so creative out there.

  14. peepy,

    I intentionally toy with ambiguity in my titles quite a bit. Hey, it’s not news or anything, so I’m not above misleading my readers a little every now and then… 🙂

  15. Well, I’m reading this blog from Vietnam, where I live. Anyways, in Ho Chi Minh City the beggers here can rent a baby to take with them on their rounds. I would imagine it is a good bet that many the ladies selling DVDs in Shanghai — whatever the content — are not the actual mothers of the babies. I would also bet that the police know exactly what is going on, but are simply sticking by the letter of the law and not arresting these “mothers” with babies.

  16. could be because of the law.

    By the way, your trackback feature seems broken at the moment.

  17. Hi,

    Currently researching life of dvd sellers in the united Kingdom, as am writing a feature film script about a chinese dvd seller on the streets of London. Was interested to see this story, as had just written a scene with a mother and baby distributing pirate dvds to sellers.

    Wondered if anyone had any information out there on how UK is perceived by chinese who are thinking of leaving China for London.

    Have travelled in China in the past, but my chinese was not great.

    I guess, Im trying to understand what chinese, perhaps especially fujianese, think about England…how they imagine it etc.

    thanks for any pointers.


  18. hhmmmm.. that’s sucky to exploit children in this field. But I think mostly they want to avoid the cops and get some pity… Anyone ever asked those women why they sell DVDs with babies ? I never saw the scene here in Chengdu, most DVD vendors just put their DVDs on the box if selling on the streets, wouldn’t persuade anyone to buy it, or they sell it in stores on campus. Maybe Chengdu people are lazy… they even fall asleep when they are supposed to provide servie to people who come to their store to buy furniture. 😛

  19. Da Xiangchang Says: May 26, 2006 at 5:58 am

    After digesting this topic and its accompanying comments, I only have one question: Do any of these pornos feature Danielle Rodgers cuz she’s really hot?

    PS: That piece of dialogue is HILARIOUS. Now, John, if you can just couple such scenes with a decent plot, you can be on your way of becoming China’s Isaac Adamson.

  20. Yes,

    If you take the time to do some basic research, you would find out that it is a common practice in Chinese cities for women with babies to sell DVDs. These DVDs may be there own, or one that is borrowed from a friend. Sometimes, the women are vending and “babysitting” at the same time. Why you ask, please refer to the PSB. Prior to this year, cops in China were not allowed to arrest women with babies, so they just get a free pass. Its the same reason why women with babies sell receipts or beg. A new law now allows for these women to be arrested, but only for 3 days…and during this time, the kids have to be sent to a daycare or orphanage and the cops have to pay for this. An orphanage like this in Beijing usually costs about 100-200 rmb per day. Ok, if you are really interested, just google it.

  21. thats strange,I have stayed in China for 6 years, I have never seen any women sell DVDs with their babies on the street…even I have been to Shanghai for many times…maybe it’s just because I’m not living there long enough to find those strange things.I’m studying Chinese in Taiyuan, there are hardly any beggers or illegal DVD sellers. So I still cant understand the situation.

  22. Janny,

    You have to be in the right part of town (not right downtown). They’re usually on bridges.

  23. There’s usually a few in between the bus station and the light rail stop by Shanghai Stadium, across from Ikea.

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