Racy China esports cafes where servers in French maid outfits kneel to feed guests, ‘derogatory to women’s dignity’

Racy China esports cafes where servers in French maid outfits kneel to feed guests, ‘derogatory to women’s dignity’

Esports cafes in China that expect their female waiting staff to dress in French maid outfits and to kneel while serving customers have drawn condemnation from the authorities.

In the city of Yiwu in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang, several esports cafes have been promoting their businesses by offering such racy forms of service.

When customers enter, they are greeted by servers wearing very short dresses and bunny ear headbands who bow and say: “Welcome home, master.”

They kneel to serve tea, feed customers, give back massages and play games with them.

On April 15, the Chinese authorities condemned the service and ordered cafes involved to change the way they operate their businesses.

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In some cafes the severs kneel down to serve male customers food and drink. Photo: Weibo/CCTV

Officials criticised the employers for lacking systems to prevent sexual harassment, which had led to some female employees being victimised.

“A single act of kneeling can be significantly derogatory to women’s dignity and carries a profound sexual implication,” China’s state media wrote on Weibo.

In 2022, a man, surnamed Wu, discovered an esports cafe called Sweet Maid Cafe, where he requested a maid-waitress, nicknamed Yaoyao, to join him playing games.

Wu then raped Yaoyao in an esports-themed hotel and was subsequently jailed for four-and-a-half years.

In August 2021, in Jiangsu province in eastern China, multiple cases of sexual harassment involving minors took place after the victims were hired to work at maid-themed cafes.

In recent years, there has been a crackdown on esports cafes which offer suspect services.

Punishments have included fines, the destruction of promotional material and shutting down establishments.

The form of service has sparked a heated discussion on mainland social media.

“These cafes should ban any physical contact between customers and waiting staff,” one online observer suggested.

“I think maid culture belittles women no matter what,” said another.

Maid cafes first emerged in Japan as a part of anime culture, where the role-playing was intended to convey politeness and submissiveness.

Most of these cafes prohibit casual physical contact between staff and customers.

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In recent years the mainland authorities have been cracking down on venues which provide such services. Photo: AFP

As Japanese anime culture became popular in China, the concept of maid servers was combined with the provision of game companions at esports cafes.

A game companion is a non-sexual escort during gaming, which might include talking and teaming up to play. It is a service intended to alleviate loneliness and enhance gameplay.

In China, there are also butler cafes specifically for female customers, where young male waiters dress up and serve drinks, chat, and play board games.

“In the cafe, I felt respected. Chatting with the young men helped me relax,” one female customer wrote on Weibo.

“Embracing both maid and butler culture as part of niche cultures is a good thing. As long as they are legal and bring happiness, they are worth cherishing,” another online observer said.

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