Tales of the City: Beijing's sex doll industry

By Wang Jiaming and Noelle Mateer, June 11, 2015

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With fewer women in the dating pool to choose from, some men are making their own.

China's sex doll market is booming and some of the finest models can be found here in Beijing. At the sleek Wangjing headquarters of online sex doll retailers Chengse Jiayuan, we find eerily lifelike plastic women selling for RMB13,000 a piece.  

“Touch her, she feels just like a real human,” the salesman tells us.

He’s right. ‘Ruolan,’ as this particular doll is named, does indeed feel like a human – soft skin, brown hair and moveable limbs and fingers.

Creepy, yes, but get used to it. With China’s male-to-female ratio becoming increasingly  imbalanced, the demand for high-end real dolls is only set to grow. And not only is the population dude-ifying, it’s also aging, which is good news for Chengse Jiayuan – most of its customers are between 40 and 50. (All, perhaps unsurprisingly, are male.)

“I got into the business because I know it’ll be booming in a few years,” says the cheery salesman, whose company sells about a dozen dolls per month. “I want to be the first in the industry rather than jump in later when it’s already hot, because then it would be too late.”

‘Too late’ may be fast approaching. Search for such dolls online and you’ll find Chinese manufacturers and vendors aplenty. But these aren’t your inflatable-balloon women of generations past. Professional sculptors have made stunningly realistic fake bodies. Touch her leg and you swear you can feel muscles and bones. Grab her hand and it bends at the joints just like yours.

The dolls come in a variety of different models. Customers can choose hair color, skin color, breast size and much else besides. More expensive dolls heat up to human body temperature and others come with a number of pre-recorded moans. Even the dolls’ most intimate parts are customizable.

High-end doll companies market themselves to male customers in their 50s and, given the price tag, those with white-collar jobs. According to Chengse Jiayuan, its clients include those seeking company after the loss of a spouse and those who live far away from their partners and need the help of dolls to remain faithful.

But as innocent as these reasons may sound, there are some uncomfortable aspects of the trade. According to our salesman, the designers tried to create a “15 year old’s body” (albeit an incredibly womanly one) and some models come as short as 1.10 meters, though these are marketed as being suitable for ‘travel’ rather than anything more sinister.

In 2013, over 500,000 dolls were sold, 85 percent of which to customers in China. We’d venture a guess that some of those customers were at the Guangzhou National Sex Culture Festival, an annual three-day expo that draws crowds of middle-aged men. 

China produces 70 percent of the world’s sex toys, a USD2 billion value that’s only going up with increasingly open attitudes toward sexuality in China.

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