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These were mainly in First, Second and Third Street, but also in Sheung Fung Lane, Ui on Lane and Centre Street.In the early 1900s Spring Garden Lane and Sam Pan Street (三板街) in Wan Chai became a red-light district with western and Chinese prostitutes.To attract attention, brothels were displaying large street number plates, and the area became known as "Big Number Brothels".Andrew and Bushnell (2006) wrote extensively on the position of women in the British Empire and the Tanka inhabitants of Hong Kong and their position in the prostitution industry, catering towards foreign sailors.The Tanka prostitutes were considered to be "low class", greedy for money, arrogant, and treating clients with a bad attitude, they were known for punching their clients or mocking them by calling them names.
From that time on, prostitution was permitted within strict limits while prohibiting a whole host of activities surrounding prostitution, such as soliciting for sex and living off "immoral earnings" (working as a pimp).
Although organised prostitution is illegal, the industry had always been under the influence of triads to recruit economically disadvantaged women who otherwise would never enter the profession voluntarily.
Until the 1980s, most Hong Kong underground sex establishments were run by gangsters. The Cantonese name of the street, 擺花 (pai fa) literally means "flower arrangement", possibly because of presence of numerous stalls in the area in the mid-19th century, selling flowers From 1884 to 1887 many brothels were declared by the Government to be unlicensed and closed down.
Most popular mainstream newspapers will carry such classifieds with a brothel guides as an insert within racing form guides.
Yellow neon advertising boxes were used to advertise sexual services to such an extent that "yellow" (黃) became synonymous with prostitution.
Japanese prostitutes called Karayuki-san, many coming from poor villages in Kyushu, started coming to Hong Kong in 1879, and constituted the majority of Japanese residents of the territory in the 1880s and 1890s.