SPEAKING FREELY No quick fix for China's mistress culture
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
There is something I must tell you about China: It is rather morally
creative in the usage of its women.
There isn't a hotel, massage parlor, ktv, or conference hall in town that
isn't frequented by "little sisters" (xiaojie), escort personnel (baopo),
hostesses (peinv), or other types of prostitutes (jinv). There's a name for
any relationship a female plaything may fall into:
Here are the "second wives" (er laopo), women [who may have
family or kids
but] who indulge in extramarital affairs with men, married or not. Then we
have "the thirds" (disanzhe) who are casual love affairs only.
The queen of all female roles, however - in direct competition with the
faithful "wife" (laopo)- is the "mistress" (qingren). The mistress, a femme
fatal, not only embodies adventure and carnal pleasures, but is also the
surest status symbol a man can wish for: She shows you have money!
Technically, only married men can have mistresses; otherwise, if the
gentleman is single, we would refer to his female company - however many of
them- as simple "girlfriends" (nvpengyou). The Chinese tradition of
maintaining mistresses is based on what good Christians would refer to as
adultery - a sin; yet in China it is mere custom - a habit.
Consequently, when Westerners first come to China, they are utterly
perplexed by the strict division here between marriage, romance, and sex -
for which, in Chinese thinking, of course (at least) three different types
of women are required.
Xu Qiya, a Jiangsu party official, had clearly set a local record with 140
mistresses; we know because he kept a sex diary; but he isn't an inventor:
In fact, I have yet to meet a dulcet Chinese girl who has not been offered
a gift from a married man at some time. At least, that's what they told me.
Accepting any gift from a married man, whether it being a handbag,
jewelry, a car, a trip to the beaches of Hainan, is the unspoken agreement
of becoming the mistress of that benefactor. It is the lure and excitement
of an extraordinary life-style - luxurious, free, illicit, and irresponsible
- that drives ever more 20-somethings not to marry, or at least to postpone
it until their bodies become less marketable.
Those entrepreneurial women, of course, fill the pool of potential future
mistresses in China to the brim. If a woman is not married by the age of
26, she "expired" and is usually stigmatized as "leftover woman" (shengnv).
Now let us talk about the situation of the Chinese married man.
Post-marital infidelity is encouraged in China just as pre-marital sex is
encouraged in Europe. In comparison to the West, only very few wives in
China will file for divorce upon discovery of her husband's infidelity. It
is rather sad.
In China, sex and power are a pair. State-run Xinhua News recently
found that 95% of all corrupt officials in China also kept mistresses. And
Tom Doctoroff, an economist, estimates that second wives probably account
for one-third of China's entire consumption of luxury goods.
Let us talk about China's capital, Beijing. From top to bottom, it isn't a
place for connubial happiness: It's a very patriarchal society (there is
mistress culture, but no such things as mister culture), and some of the
most powerful men, including the Communist Party of China, create and
procreate here, trailed by legions of businessmen, scholars, diplomats, and
entrepreneurs, who mostly see no problem in renting a maid for warming
In fact, the magazine Business Insider quoted a vice-ministerial-level
official who insisted that "there is no official at his level who doesn't
have at least a few lovers" It is a must-have.
The victim is the young woman of China. As her feelings for any particular
man dwindles (they are all cheaters, no?), she too becomes emotionally
detached, and regards being a mistress as a form of business, or
transactions of favors - a form of consumerism.
There are several grades of "maintaining" (baoyang) a mistress: The
cheapest, of course, is to bed a university student. She is young,
flexible, poor, and full of romantic ideas in her head. She will eventually
marry a fellow classmate, but until then she may want to sneak out and bag
a sugar daddy in Wudaokou, Zhongguancun, or Shaoyang district.
Next is the working woman. She is independent, has experience, and owns or
rents her own place. (She might be even married, but, with her husband
banging the next hostess at the local karaoke bar, she probably thinks what
Perhaps the highest cost of maintenance goes to the trophy mistress
(huaping, a "flower pot"). Her goal and profession is to conquer the
most powerful man she can find at a time. It's a life-style - it's her
religion. Enormous financial resources, and a good amount of drama, are
necessary to snag such high-profile gold digger.
It has been observed that many Chinese women opt out of the Chinese
tradition of cheating husbands and try to find a foreigner, preferably from
a traditional monogamous society like Western Europe. Those "foreigners"
(laowai) may also cheat on their spouse, of course, but for individual
reasons, not, as is the case in China, as a social prescription or norm.
And so the mistress culture of China lives on, from vulgar to lustrous and
glittering, and if the endless supply of young women for successful men
does not ebb - and if women don't divorce - the husband and his lovers will
happily drive the market for luxury goods, hotel rooms, and publications
about mistresses, and, almost as an afterthought, minister to their ethical
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Dr Thorsten Pattberg is a research fellow at The Institute for Advanced
Humanistic Studies, Peking University.