SHANGHAI - The saying "Behind every successful man, there is a woman" has a
twist in China, where it seems that behind every corrupt male official, there
is at least one concubine. A top anti-graft official recently acknowledged in
public that 95% of the corrupt officials netted in Beijing's crackdowns kept
China's millennia-old culture of men keeping concubines is back, with many
communist party and government officials now keeping at least one "second wife"
as a status symbol or to satisfy his sexual needs.
Addressing government and party officials in the prosperous city of Dongguan in
Guangdong province earlier this month, Qi Peiwen, a senior official with the
party's Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, warned officials
against "beautiful women," saying that having a mistress proves an easy way for
official to become to corrupt.
Qi's comments prompted a flurry of responses in domestic media and Internet
chat-rooms about the resurgence of China's ancient concubine culture in
He claimed that a shocking 95% of corrupt officials kept one or more
concubines. Some people have joked that the trend has made it even more
difficult for non-officials to find a wife, given China's imbalanced sex ratio.
(According to the semi-governmental All-China Women's Federation, the sex ratio
among newborn babies in 2005 was 119 boys to 100 girls.)
The ancient Chinese tradition of men keeping concubines was attacked by the
Communist Party when it came to power in the 1949 revolution. With its "iron
fist", the party under Chairman Mao Zedong also successfully weeded out other
"social evils" such as prostitution and drugs. Bigamy is still outlawed today,
at least on paper.
With the advent of economic modernization and capitalistic values in China, an
undercurrent of sexual liberation and material decadence has also emerged,
resulting in the return of concubines and an increase in extra-marital
For the rich and the powerful, keeping extra-marital relations has become
fashionable, particularly in officialdom. It seems that from senior party and
government officials to grass roots organizers - anyone who has access to power
has access to mistresses.
The highest-ranking official to fall from grace in recent years was Chen
Liangyu, the former Shanghai party chief and a Politburo member. He was
sentenced to 18 years in prison for corruption and was said to have kept at
least two mistresses.
The current record holder in terms of number of mistresses is Xu Qiyao, the
former director of Jiangsu province's construction bureau whose death penalty
over corruption was reprieved. Xu, who was in charge of infrastructure projects
in the eastern Chinese province, had kept more than 140 mistresses. Anti-graft
officials were astonished when they found Xu's sex diary which recorded the
names of all his mistresses and his sexual experiences with them.
Corrupt officials and their mistresses has now become a target of humor among
Chinese media and bloggers.
Chinese netizens have compiled a list of records made by corrupt officials in
terms of the number and beauty of their mistresses, as well as the amount of
money spent on them. The list was widely posted on popular websites.
Power, money, and sex
China's new concubine culture is not limited to government officials. The
phenomenon has become widespread, with the so-called "concubine villages"
springing up in coastal cities.
With China's reform and opening-up, the orthodox Marxist-Maoist ideology was
discarded and the vacuum has been filled with materialism. Material desires are
"liberated". People need more power, more money, and it seems, more sex.
Keeping a "second wife" is now in vogue among the rich and powerful.
Jin Weizhi, the general manager of a State-owned milk company who was convicted
of bribery and embezzlement in 2000, once said: "Keeping mistresses is not only
for physical needs. It's more about a symbol of status. If you don't have
several women, people will look down upon you."
Second wives are often accused of convincing officials to to take bribes or
commit other abuses of power. In trun, officials often shower mistresses with
lavish gifts, money - or contracts for profitable projects.
In an extreme case, Deng Baoju, a banker in the booming town of Shenzhen, spent
18.4 million yuan (US$2.7 million) of his bank's money on his fifth mistress
within 800 days, averaging 23,000 yuan each day. He was sentenced to 15 years
in prison for the fraud.
Corruption and concubines go hand in hand, according to a 2008 report by
Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Weekly, which surveyed 41 provincial-level
officials under a graft probe between 1998 and 2008. It found that 36 of them
The Southern Weekly quoted the wife of a high-ranking official in central China
as saying that the residential compound for officials where she lived "like a
widows' village" because men seldom returned home. Many wives were aware of
their husbands' infidelity, but chose to keep silent over family interests.
Committing bigamy is punishable with up to two years in jail according to the
Chinese law, but in practice keeping mistresses seldom brings a bigamy charge,
as long as the men don't formally register marriage.
Curbing the concubine culture
The resurgence in concubine culture led the Communist Party in 2007 to start a
massive crackdown on officials keeping mistresses. The party conducted its
first-ever survey on the marital status of government officials and its Beijing
committee even ordered officials to report marriage changes to the authority.
So far the measures have had little effect.
Still, almost every senior male official under graft investigation has been
found to have keep one or more mistresses. This has led the media to suggest
anti-graft organizations start graft probes with finding out whether the
officials have concubines.
To stop mistresses from making use of their official connections, China's
judicial authorities have expanded the legal interpretation of bribery to
include the act of giving gifts to an official's mistress.
Earlier this month, the government of Meishan City in Sichuan Province banned
"abnormal relationships" between officials and women. However, the ban was
widely criticized for being impractical - the government did not specify what
an "abnormal relationship" is or what penalties officials would face.
Like most media in the world, the Chinese press laps up juicy stories about
corrupt officials and their mistresses. Still, if the perpetrator remains in
power, few dare to question his fidelity to his wife or his cleanliness from
corruption. In the United States, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford - who
almost lost his job for meeting his mistress - must be envious of his Chinese
Stephen Wong is a freelance journalist from Shanghai.