ADULTERY AND BIGAMY IN CHINA
Painting of Concubine Yang
Extramarital affairs by men with mistresses and prostitutes are generally tolerated while those by women are considered scandalous. In the old days, men could have many wives but women were tortured and beaten if they were discovered being unfaithful to their husbands. Today more than 60 percent of the calls that feminist hotlines receive are from wives with cheating husbands.
A survey in the 2000s revealed that 60 percent of respondents said they had an affair at some point during their marriage, compared to 15 percent in the 1980s. Many sociologist believe the number is increasing all the time as rising standards of living make it more feasible economically to have affairs.
In the Mao era even the whiff of an affair could get someone fired from their job, demoted, or sent to self-criticism sessions and even jail. In the Cultural Revolution having extramarital affairs were condemned and labeled as Male-Female-Relationship Lifestyle.
One of the most watched videos on the Internet in late 2007 was a clip from an Olympics promotion event to rebrand the CCTV sports channel as the “Olympics Channel.” In the video, the wife of a popular anchor on the channel crashes the event, grabs the microphone and accuses the anchor of sleeping with another woman. In January 2008, a 19-year-old female student in Yunnan filmed her boyfriend killing and dismembering her married lover.
Good Websites and Sources: Divorces in the 1990s tech.mit.edu ; Marriage and Divorce Laws in China International Family Law ; Foreigners and divorces in China china.org Concubines beijingmadeeasy.com ; China’s New Concubines pacificnews.org ; Links in this Website: MARRIAGE, LOVE AND DATING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEDDINGS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;SEX IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; SEX AND HISTORY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PROSTITUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MAO'S PRIVATE LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China
Polygamy in China
Polygamy still exists in some forms among upper class members of some minorities. Some polyandry exists among Tibetans, Naxi and Pumi minorities (See Tibet, Minorities). Simplified marriage procedures have led to a rise in bigamy.
In the old days, it was not uncommon for wealthy Chinese men to be married to three or four women at the same time. The various wives had different duties and often shared responsibilities raising the different children. The first wife traditionally had the right to order the secondary wives around and her children were given precedence over the other children.
As part of an effort to stamp out bigamy the government plans to publish the nationwide marriage registry online so wives can look up their husbands and make sure they are not married to someone else. The system is expected to be operational by 2010.
Adultery and Literature in China
In book Bound Feet and Western Dress, the author Pang-Mei Natasha Chang is told by her great aunt, "You always ask me if I loved Hsu Chih-mo [her unfaithful husband], and you know I can't answer this. It confuses me, this question, because everyone always tells me that I did so much for Hsu Chih-mo, I must have loved him. In my entire life, I have never said to anyone, 'I love you.' If caring for Hsu Chih-mo and his family was love, then maybe I loved him. Out of all the women in his life, I loved him the most."
One of the most popular American books in China was The Bridges of Madison County, a story by Robert James Waller about a married Iowa woman who has an affair with a National Geographic photographer. It sold over 500,000 copies. One Chinese told Newsweek a "Bridges" affair is "the biggest fantasy with middle-aged, middle-class Chinese women." Some 1.29 million tickets for the movie of book were sold on the first weekend of its release.
Concubines in China
Concubine Yang miniseries A concubine is a mistress, traditionally of a rich and powerful man. Concubinage has a long history and was common through the early 20th century. Emperors and warlords often had numerous concubines as well as wives. Their successors were often not the first son from their first wife but sometimes their most able son from a concubine. Wives sometimes even gave their husband's concubines, a practice referred to as "going to eat vinegar."
In Imperial times, concubines were symbols of status and wealth to the men that possessed them. Their own status was less than that of a wife and their children legally belonged to their master's wife not themselves. Because only the wealthiest men could afford them, concubines weren’t expected to do much work. As a rule concubinage was more the custom than multiple wives.
Mistresses and concubines are sometimes called “little wives.” In the old days it was not common for men to have their mistresses come over to the house and have an “accounting” lesson behind closed doors while the wife prepared food for them.
Under the Communists concubines became symbols of corruption and decadence. Concubinage was abolished by the Communist after 1949. During the Maoist period people didn't dare have extramarital affairs with a concubine or anyone out of fear of getting caught and being harshky punished.
Concubinage has made a come back in recent years. The young women that become concubines often do it for the money and approach it a business deal: sex for a comfortable life. The smart ones save their money and invest it or start businesses. Some blow all their money on clothes and luxuries.
Mistresses and Cheating Husbands in China
The Chinese writer Lijia Zhang wrote in The Guardian, Back in the early 1980s, when I worked at a rocket factory in Nanjing, one of my colleagues, a married man, was caught having an affair with an unmarried woman. He was given a three-year sentence in a labour camp and the girl was disgraced. In today's society, having extramarital affairs or keeping anernai — second wife or concubine — is as common as "cow hair", as the Chinese would say. [Source: Lijia Zhang, The Guardian, October 22, 2011]
A “little third” is a modern colloquial term for a mistress. A successful Chinese businesswoman told the New York Times, said, are expected to tolerate a husband’s multiple mistresses. Concubinage, outlawed by the Communists after they took power in 1949, has re-emerged. ‘Most women just assume that sooner or later it will happen,’ she said. ‘Men have power. Women are weak, and they have too much to lose. But I want to be happy. I could not accept that.’
One study of extramarital affairs in China, published in the United States in 2005, said 20 percent of 1,240 married men surveyed in urban China and 3.9 percent of 1,275 married women admitted to having had an affair in the past 12 months. [Ibid]
The details of some secret romances have found their way online before a captivated public. In one of the most recent cases a county official in the central province of Hubei was detained last month on suspicion of killing his mistress, who was pregnant with twins, after she reportedly asked him to marry her or give her 2 million yuan (£193,000). [Ibid]
Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times, “Some scholars say that philandering is growing in tandem with China’s economic and social opportunities, helping drive up the divorce rate. Few statistics exist on affairs, but Chinese women frequently complain that men regard a woman on the side as a perquisite of marriage. One study by the All-China Women’s Federation, widely cited in 2001, found 30 percent of wives who divorced had been unfaithful. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, February 16, 2011]
The Chinese news media cite a growing phenomenon of young women willing to take on a rich married lovers for an apartment or a car. “On one hand, men who have attained a higher social status want more than one woman,” Lei Mingguang, a law professor at China Minzu University in Beijing, told the New York Times. “On the other, young girls see a chance to exchange their youth and beauty for a better life, even if it means hurting someone else’s marriage.”
Mistresses and Corruption in China
In China, sex, corruption and money are often intertwined. Many money scandals have a sexual element. One Chinese expression goes: Where there is corruption, there’s sex. And where there’s sex, there’s corruption. A wife who was dumped for a mistress said, ”Mistresses are always lurking in shadows of corruption cases. If you don’t have money, you can’t hold on to your mistress.”
Corrupt officials often have mistresses and “second wives,” who are often blamed for driving officials to take bribes or embezzle money. One survey found that 95 percent of Chinese officials convicted of corruption had mistresses. Most of the officials were involved in “trading power for sex,” gambling, money laundering, and involvement in shady land deals. Another survey found that nearly 2,000 officials in Hunan Province were found to have broken the one-child policy. Many had second, third and forth children with their mistresses.
How to deal with corrupt officials who have mistresses is a continuing theme. The country’s top prosecutorial agency said in 2009 that 90 percent of provincial- or ministerial-level officials found guilty of corruption in the past seven years had engaged in affairs, according to China Daily, the government-run English language newspaper. Meishan, a city in Sichuan Province, decided that year to issue a direct edict ordering officials to remain faithful to their spouses. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, February 16, 2011]
In 2000, the head of Jiangsu Construction Bureau, Xu Qiyai, was caught up in a corruption scandal and found to have had relations with over 100 women, including a mother and daughter. Lin Longfei, the former Communist Party secretary of Zhiunding County, in Fujian Province kept 22 mistresses at the same time and held a banquet for all of them in May 2002.
In some cases officials have turned to corruption and bribe-taking to support multiple mistresses. In other cases concubines are blamed for leading their lovers astray. Experts on the matter say that sex is an element of corruption but not a cause. One Chinese sociologist told Newsweek, “Sex is not the reason why officials are corrupt. In their eyes concubines and mistresses are commodities, like a Mercedes-Benz or a villa...Corruption arises out of greed, not lust.”
Mainland Mistresses for Hong Kong Men
Shenzhen is filled with young women who are mistresses for relatively affluent men in Hong Kong. Many women come from poor villages across China to Shenzhen not find jobs at factories but specifically to find sugar daddies. Others start as prostitutes before making "the move from retail to wholesale."
The wife of Hong Kong man with a mistress in Shenzhen told the New York Times, "These mainland women have beautiful skin and pretty faces. They know how to please another woman's husband. They do it for economic stability.”
Many of the young women have children. By one count Hong Kong businessmen have fathered more than a half million illegitimate children. One Shenzhen law professor told Reuter, "These women have babies to make sure their men stay with them. They would never let this bargaining chip go to Hong Kong without them."
See Hong Kong Residency Rules
Concubine Villages in China
In Shenzhen there are "concubine villages," such as the one in Huizou, where hundreds perhaps thousands of young mainland women live in spacious apartments, paid for by their lovers, in high-rise complexes close enough to the border that the men can take off early from work, visit their lovers, and be home in time for dinner with their wives.
A typical mistress in a concubine village lives in a US$200-a-month apartment and receives a $600 a month stipend from her lover, who she says visits her once to several times a week. Most of these mistresses have no other job. They spend their time watching television and hanging out and playing mah-jong with other mistresses. In some cases they only see their lovers only once or twice a month.
The rail line between Hong Kong and Guangdong is sometimes called the “Concubine Express.” Guidebooks are available in Hong Kong that give men tips on the best places to find good-looking, potential, mistresses. Some men who want some variety engages in concubine “sharing” with their friends.
Cracking Down on Mistresses in China
Worried both by declining morality and the consequences of the residency rules, authorities in Guangdong have made long-term cohabitation by unmarried couples a crime, with a sentence of up to two years in a labor camp. Few arrests and prosecutions have been made. Police only act if a complaint is formally made. Charges are hard to prove.
All across China, private detectives that investigate cheating wives and husbands have more work than they can handle. The detectives, who charge a $1,000 as a starting fee, spend much of their time staking out love hotels hoping to photograph a couple in act of making love in room when the curtains are blown open by a wind.
Zhang Yu Fen—a wife who was dumped by her husband for a mistress—formed a “guerilla squad for attacking mistresses” made up of similarly dumped wives.“Unless mistresses are completely wiped out, we won’t be able to achieve a harmonious society and will only be left with the menace” mistresses present, Zhang said. “We, the socially vulnerable, have to get together to eradicate the existence of mistresses..Our organization’s aim is to punish these husbands and claim the assets we are entitled to.”
Zhang’s group collects information for lawsuits against husbands and mistresses and follows their targets around. Dubbed by the local media as “mistress killers,” they have physically assaulted some mistresses. Zhang, who lives in Xian and carries a stun gun when she leaves her house, was dumped by her husband in 1997. She filed law suits against him and was finally granted a divorce in 2007 but all she received as a settlement was a small house without heating.
On the Internet a Chinese businessman advertised for stand-on mistress to be beat up by his wife so the wife could let out her aggression and the businessman could protect his real mistress. Ten women applied for the job. The one who was selected was paid $400 for 10 minutes of work.
Bigamy is illegal in China. Corruption inspectors with the ruling Communist party have used the law to crack down on several officials, including the former head of the National Bureau of Statistics, Qiu Xiaohua, who was called a "vile social and political influence" and expelled from the party in 2007. [Source: AP, The Guardian, January 11, 2011]
In January 2011, AP reported: “China's exploding wealth has created a culture of secret mistresses and second wives. Now officials are putting marriage records online so lovers and spouses can check for cheats. State media has said Beijing and Shanghai will be among the first places to put marriage databases online this year. The plan is to have records for all of China online by 2015.” [Source: AP, The Guardian, January 11, 2011]
Chinese Court Considers Marriage Law Revision to Deal with Mistress Problem
Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times: “ Under a draft interpretation of China’s marriage law, expected to be issued in coming weeks, mistresses would not be allowed to sue their married lovers for reneging on promises of money, property or goods, said legal experts who have reviewed the language. Nor would wayward husbands be allowed to seek the courts’ help in retrieving money or goods that they bestowed upon mistresses. But wives could sue to recover money or property that ended up in the hands...a mistress. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, February 16, 2011]
The top court, the Supreme People’s Court, decided to clarify the marriage law after a spate of lawsuits over the exchange of goods, money or property during extramarital affairs, Yang Xiaoxin, a marriage law specialist in Beijing, told the New York Times. The draft envisions that either spouse might be unfaithful. But most lawsuits involve a wife’s claim to recover apartments, cars or money from a mistress, a trend that has quickened as the Chinese become more sophisticated about their legal rights, he and others said. “The local courts have received many cases concerning the mistress settlement fee, but the provisions of the marriage law only state general principles,’ he said. ‘Similar cases are yielding different verdicts. So the Supreme Court realized it is time to issue an interpretation.’ [Ibid]
Typically courts rule in favor of the wives, said Lei Mingguang, a law professor at China Minzu University in Beijing. In a 2009 case in the central province of Henan, for instance, a mistress was ordered to return 330,000 renminbi, more than $50,000, that she had received during a three-year affair. The man’s wife discovered the payments after she and her husband reconciled and filed suit — together — against the mistress. The court found that that the payments were illegal because marriage law requires couples to jointly decide how to spend their common property, The Peninsular Morning Post, a local newspaper, reported. [Ibid]
But some courts have split disputed property between the wife and the mistress, especially in cases when the husband pretended to the mistress that he was single. Liu Sen, a lawyer with the DHH law firm in Beijing, told the New York Times the high court’s main goal was to head off suits between unfaithful spouses and their lovers, while reaffirming the other spouse’s right to recover misspent common property. [Ibid]
Some 20 different provisions cover myriad issues, including how the value of houses or apartments should be split between couples in a divorce. But the adultery provision has grabbed the public’s attention and provided fresh grist for the debate about whether materialism is eroding traditional values.
The new interpretation of the marriage law has been in the works for more than two years. In November, the Chinese news media rushed to refute rumors that the high court planned to allow the authorities to criminally charge mistresses and force them to pay compensation to their lovers’ wives. Lawyers promised nothing so dramatic was in store. ‘The court is trying to protect the stability of marriage and the family,’ he said. ‘Basically the court is saying adultery is wrong and nobody should benefit from it.’
Women Who Fool Around in China
A number of rich women also take lovers. Some like to hang out at nightclubs in Shanghai and pick the men they sleep with by the easy way they dance on the dance floor. One sociologist told Time, “even a decade ago, women didn’t have the money to buy everything, including sex. It’s really no different than being a man.”
According to a study by the All-China Women’s Federation, female infidelity contributes to 30 percent of divorces. One woman who pays the men she sleeps with told Time, “I know my husband does the same thing when he’s traveling on business.”...so why can’t I.”
One young women in Beijing has made plans to marry her boyfriend but says she plans to continue her relationship with her secret lover—an older married man.
Divorce in China
City hall divorce desk The number of divorces in the country is rising. The civil affairs ministry has said 2.47 million couples split in 2009, up almost 9 percent from the year before. The rate began increasing especially after divorce procedures were streamlined and a requirement that couples first produce a letter from employers or neighborhood committees was dropped in 2003. In the first quarter of 2011, China recorded 465,000 divorces - a 17.1 per cent increase from the same period a year earlier and a pace that implies the dissolution of 5166 marriages every day.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Daily newspaper, the divorce rate highest in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. About one fifth of all marriages end in divorce, compared to 13 percent in 1997, 3 percent in the early 1980s and near zero in the 1950s and 1960s when community units were often called to take action if a couple was thinking about getting divorced. Even though the divorce rate has increased dramatically--approaching 25 percent in some urban areas--the rate for China as a whole is still around one forth that of the United States, where the divorce rate is over 50 percent.
After a divorce the ex-husband usually gets custody of the children and the ex-wife is ostracized and has trouble getting a job. Women in bad marriages usually put up with them rather than endure the hardships caused by a divorce. In the old days, there were even fewer divorces: men simply took a concubine and ignored the wife.
A question-and-answer book called "How to Divorce," which tells unhappy couple everything they need to know about getting a divorce, is available in China today. Question No. 160 reads, "if one side is sold into marriage, and wants a divorce, how does the court handle this?" Answer: "Selling spouses is illegal. Plaintiff has clear grounds for divorce. Purchase price will be confiscated by the state. Parents or matchmaker may be severely punished, especially if the sold party was physically harmed."
Some older Chinese thinks it too easy to get a divorce now. One 56-year-old man told the China Daily, "We treated marriage as something sacred. Divorce was considered a shame, so the divorce rate was low. This meant there was no need for any such agreement."
Reasons for Divorces in China
In the old days, there was a considerable amount for shame attatched to being divorced. Couples stayed together even if they were miserable and extramarital affairs went on for years without breaking up marriages because married couples didn’t want to hurt their children or lose face with their parents. There is still a stigma attached to divorce but considerably less than in the past. In some urban areas it has become almost cool to be divorced.
Adultery is the main cause of divorce. One third of divorces are the result of extramarital affairs. About 25 percent are related to sexual problems and another 25 percent "emotional incompatibility." Detectives say that many of the cases they handle involve wives seeking information on their husbands and their mistresses. Some of them claim that 80 percent of divorces are triggered by “third parties.”
Other reasons for seeking divorce include lack of money, crowded households, arguments with in-laws, one-girl families, and the hardship caused by husbands and wives working in different cities or provinces. Many marriages break up because of verbal and physical abuse by wives. A recent government study showed that many divorces occur after one spouse gets rich, or finds a richer partner.
Many divorces occurred in the 1980s after the Cultural Revolution, when unhappy couples forced together under trying circumstances were given the opportunity to get divorced.
Late marriages often do not work out. One survey found that 60 percent of marriage that occur in old age end in divorce. Financial concerns are often an issue and some find it better to live together than to marry.
Feminist hotlines encourage women seeking divorce to look for other alternatives. One hotline organizer told the Los Angeles Times she tells women they have to be realistic and pragmatic. “Women can’t expect too much from their husbands,” she said, “the more they expect the more disappointed they will become.”
Divorce Laws in China
Women were given the right to file for divorcewhen the Communists took power in 1949 but few people even thought about divorce as people struggled just to put food on their tables. In the 1950s and 1960s, divorce was considered both immoral and bourgeois by the Communists. A divorce required approval of the state and that was often almost impossible to get. The few people that were granted divorces were often demoted or banished to a rural area.
Marriage laws passed in the 1980s made getting a divorce relatively easy. Couples that wanted a divorce simply had to go to a government office, pay $6, sign some papers and they were divorced. According to Article 27 of the marriage code, "The husband is not allowed to apply for a divorce when his wife is pregnant or within one year after the birth of a child." A woman on the other hand could be granted a divorce even if she is pregnant.
Still in most cases couples needed permission from their employers to get a divorce. Couples often were forced to stay together because their employers would not grant them permission or the couple felt uncomfortable asking for permission or having their private problems exposed.
Even when permission was obtained the couple had to go through a one month waiting period in which the they were supposed to think things over. During that time the couple had to show up for meetings with divorce officials—who tried to talk them out of breaking up—or risk having the whole process voided.
Changes in the Divorce Laws in China
New divorce laws enacted in the fall of 2003 got rid of the requirement for permission from an employer to get a divorce. Under the new rules if both parties agree to a divorce they simply filled out an application at a government office—answering “no” to the questions on kids and property disputes—provide their marriage certificate, identification cards and photos of themselves. The whole process usually takes about 10 to 20 minutes. The processing fee is less than a dollar. The only question they are asked is, “Is it voluntary?
Not surprisingly divorce rates soared after the laws were changed, In 2004, teh first year after the laws were changed, 1.6 million people were granted divorces, 300,000 more than in 2003. One woman who divorced her husband of 20 years told the Los Angeles Times they would have divorced much earlier had the laws been changed earlier. “We just don’t get along. We’ve thought about it for a long time. The new rules are best. Finally we don’t have to deal with the hassles.”
New divorce laws passed in 2001 gave wives the right to divorce their husbands for abusing them or having extramarital affairs. There are also new laws that require unfaithful partners, especially men with mistresses, to pay their spouses in compensation. One law allows a spouse to claim all family assets if her partner is considered “at fault.”
Housing reform has increase in the divorce rate by creating a rental market which gives unhappy spouses a place to go.
An astounding 98 percent of all married couples in Renhe, a village with about 4,000 people near Chongqing in Sichuan Province, got divorced in the mid 2000s. The youngest had just gotten marred and the oldest were in their 90s. The reason they got divorced was to take advantage of a legal loophole that promised a new apartment in a compensation deal to any household—meaning a divorced couple would end up with two apartments while a married cold would only get one. In the end the authorities changed the deal and the compensation package after the mass divorces, making it less advantageous to be single. In the meantime some individuals took advantage of the divorces to find new boyfriends or girlfriends, leaving behind many broken up families.
Pre-Nuptial Agreements, Break-Up Websites and Living Together After Divorce in China
"Wo- hun" literally translating to “snail marriage.” This word refers to young couples that divorce but remain living together for financial reasons. Statistics estimate that the divorce rate among the 80s generation (80) is around 30 percent. While this number has increased, so too has the price of houses, deterring divorced partners from physically going their separate ways after they’ve figuratively done so. The phenomenon is a product of pressure on couples to get married and buy a house so that they can leave the confines of their parents. Most of these young guys and gals tied the knot right after college and received the support of both families to finance a home of their own. When newlywed turns into newlyshed, some prefer to stick it out side by side, like two snails in one shell, rather than confront the hassle of sorting out new accommodation.
The first prenuptial agreements have appeared in China in recent years. Some of them have some pretty strict terms. According to the China Daily one read: ‘If the husband has an extramarital affair, he has to pay 200,000 yuan [$29,300] to the wife.’ It also said, ‘If the husband’s mobile phone is not in service, he should report to the wife immediately and apologize; if the husband does not come home one night, he should pay 1,000 yuan to the wife; in case of a quarrel, the husband should always be the one to apologize.’ Needless to say the groom-to-be didn’t sign it and called off the wedding. [Source: Gan Tian, China Daily, June 2010]
The first prenuptial agreements appeared in 1990 according to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs. Most of the prenuptial agreements in China are drown up women. One that was accepted called for the husband to turn everything her earned, about $3000 a month, to his wife, who in turn would give a $775 a month allowance to her husband. It also said the husband was responsible for washing dishes and ironing clothes while the wife was in charge of cooking and keeping the house clean. The woman who drew up the agreement told the China Daily, ‘It can avoid trouble after marriage. Besides, the couple will love each more, as they know what their duties are.” [Ibid]
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times of London, “Sites such as Kaixin Fenshou Wang the Happy Break-up Website have been set up to offer people a place to share their misery. It exists to "help people walk out of the shadow of their break-ups" and can have 1000 people in its forum at any one time. "In the past, we could only afford instant noodles every day, and sometimes not even that. But we loved each other so much, so it didn't matter. Why have you changed after getting along with me for so long? You have smashed almost all the things we have at home," read one posting yesterday. [Source: Leo Lewis, Times of London, September 8, 2011]
Image Sources: 1) Concubine Yang, Guifei; 2) Divorce, China Daily
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2012