The cutting edge of capitalism: The Nightclub Waitress

LI RUIRONG, 23, joined the South China City nightclub as a waitress about a year ago after working in a coffee shop. Her parents are state factory employees, but she earns more at the club. Six nights a week she works a five-hour shift and takes home at least 700 yuan (pounds 58) a month, depending on tips. She saves half her salary. After this job she wants to become a self-employed businesswoman selling clothes.

Nightclubs like South China City first opened in Canton about four years ago. This one mainly caters for visiting businessmen from the northern provinces of China. On the dance-floor it is mostly ballroom, interspersed with disco, live singers, and the odd ballet dancer in a tutu dancing scenes from Swan Lake. The decor includes doric columns and Greek sculptures, theme rooms in the style of foreign countries, and private karaoke rooms.

Ms Li laughs when asked about life before the reforms. 'I can't remember, I was a schoolgirl . . . But I could not have found a job like this 10 years ago.'

The club, which opened at the end of 1990, is a profitable sideline for a state collective involved mainly in property. Leisure centres - always with karaoke - have mushroomed. At first they catered for visiting businessmen, but are now full of newly-wealthy Chinese.

Not all are as salubrious as South China City. Prostitution, one of the 'seven evils' targeted by the Communists after 1949, is thriving again. Earlier this year Guangdong's top judge reported a 77 per cent increase in cases relating to prostitution, drugs, and abduction of children and women. The number of executions for these crimes doubled. Police occasionally organise mass swoops on hotels, karaoke bars and sauna houses, netting hundreds of prostitutes and their clients who are sent off for 're-education'. But, with the increasing wealth in southern China, Hong Kong's triad gangs are moving in for easy vice pickings.

(Photograph omitted)