These Tan-ka people of the Canton river are the descendants of a tribe of aborigines pushed by advancing Chinese civilisation to live on boats on the Canton river, being for centuries forbidden by law to live on shore. These Tan-ka people were the secret but trusty allies of foreigners from the time of the East India Company to the present day.
Those protected women, moreover, generally act as protectors each to a few other Tan-ka women who live by sly prostitution.
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.
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.
There were 13 licensed Japanese brothels and 132 prostitutes in Hong Kong in 1901, with the figure reaching a peak of 172 in 1908.However, most of the commercial sex worker industry consists of women working in small, usually one room apartments, usually referred to as "one-woman brothels", the equivalent of the "walk-up brothel" in the United Kingdom.