Planet China

King of the Casanovas

One of the roles that transformed Richard Gere into an international star was his performance in the 1980 movie American Gigolo, in which he played a male escort. In a first for Hollywood, the film featured a young man selling his body to older, richer women. “He’s the highest paid lover in Beverly Hills… he leaves women feeling more alive than they’ve ever felt before,” boasted the promotional poster.

The news in China this week was of a ‘Shanghai gigolo’ who might be the best-paid gigolo in the nation’s financial capital. The man in question worked at a male escort club in Shanghai called the White Horse, and his exploits have titilated netizens after a post on WeChat described birthday gifts he had been given by one of his rich female patrons.

On turning 28, the man was given 28 presents, including an Audi luxury car, a gold cup and Rmb280,000 ($41,500) in cash.

A photo of the selection got onto social media and soon had netizens digging around for more information about the club, which it turned out had an official website. The furore also brought into question the legality of the venue – which has 19 VIP areas and describes itself as “a private club for women, located in Shanghai’s most prosperous downtown area”. Naturally, what went on there was the source of much speculation too.

An employment ad promised would-be male staff that “the work is easy and relaxing, it’s as simple as escorting guests to drink and talk, no illegal activity is involved”. That said, the 180cm or taller male models the club required could expect lavish salaries of at least Rmb80,000 ($11,885) a month.

The whiff of scandal was enough for Shanghai police to raid the club last Saturday and shut it down, although as the South China Morning Post later noted, “it was unclear how it had gone unnoticed by police for years until last week”. Quite how the gigolos were meeting their clients’ emotional and (possibly) physical needs was a major talking point – an online chatroom about the club (hashtag: ‘is rich womens’ love always this direct’) was visited more than 400 million times and received more than 680,000 comments.

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