ADULTERY AND INFIDELITY IN CHINA
For thousands of years, Chinese emperors, government officials and wealthy men kept concubines. In many cases traders and business men maintained a wife in places where there did business. 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. Sometimes the husbands are punished. According to an old Chinese punishment, a couple accused of adultery were beheaded together. If their faces turned towards each other the adultery was confirmed, if the did not an injustice had been done. In recent years numerous officials were expelled from the Communist Party for adultery.
Sex between consenting adults is technically not illegal in China, but the police have broad powers to suppress activities that they consider antisocial. Elderly women who staff local “neighborhood committees,” the grassroots eyes and ears of the government, also try to stop activities of which they disapprove. But discreet affairs have a good chance of escaping detection and interference. Means of birth control were not always available to unmarried youths, but women knew they could get an abortion.Extramarital affairs seem to occur much more than generally believed, although they are conducted in such secrecy that little statistical information is available. Perhaps the best evidence of these affairs is divorce rates: about one third of the divorces in Beijing from 1984 to 1985 were caused by extramarital relationships. In the Third Symposium of Family Problems in 1991, an expert said that 40 percent of divorces are caused by extramarital sexual relationships. If these findings are at all typical, then the increasing divorce rate must reflect an increase in the number of extramarital relationships. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
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.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.
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]
Websites and Sources: USA Today piece usatoday.com ; Sex Incidents in China zonaeuropa.com ; Sex Industry guardian.co.uk ; Chinese sex toy maker lacyshaki.en ; Books: “Sexual Life of Ancient China”, written by Robert van Gulik in the 1920s; “The Illustrated Handbook of Chinese Sex History” by Professor Liu Dalin and “Sex China Studies in Sexology in Chinese Culture” by Fang-ju Juan, The Sexology Research Institute of China is at People's University in Beijing. Sex History and Literature Ancient Sex Culture China.org ; Chinese Sex Literature yellowbridge.com ; Sex in Ancient China Book Review dannyreviews.com Prostitution in China : Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Shanghaiist blog shanghaiist.com ; Homosexuality in China History of Gay life in China fordham.edu/halsall
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]
More than 60 percent of the calls that feminist hotlines receive are from wives with cheating husbands.Forbes reported:“Infidelity is rife in China, due to a male-dominated culture that has traditionally (albeit quietly) tolerated concubines and prostitution. Pressure to marry young leads to fast arrangements. Obligatory marriages coupled with a lack of openness toward sex all but encourage men to seek satisfaction elsewhere. 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. [Source: Forbes, February 8, 2013]
A survey in Beijing found that members of at least 10 percent of the sample of 600 couples had had extramarital sex. Perhaps most significant is a nationwide survey that 69 percent of the people surveyed did not think extramarital affairs are wrong. In Dalin Liu’s 1992 survey, 69 percent condoned extramarital sexual relations. In Shenzhen, a town bordering Hong Kong, 91.8 percent of divorce cases in 1987 involved a “third person.” [Source: “1989-1990 Survey of Sexual Behavior in Modern China: A Report of the Nationwide “Sex Civilization” Survey on 20,000 Subjects in China: by M.P. Lau’, Continuum (New York) in 1997, Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review (1995, volume 32, pp. 137-156), Encyclopedia of Sexuality ++]
Among rural husbands, 9.3 percent admitted to a history of extramarital sex; higher rates were found among service or manual workers or businessmen, those under 25 or over 56 years of age, and those who gave evidence of a “pleasure-seeking predisposition” on several attitude measures. Rural wives were unlikely to have experienced extramarital sex. ++
According to a survey in the late 1980s and early 1990s, 10.2 percent of urban husbands, admitted to a history of extramarital sex. Extramarital sex was more common among service or manual workers, or businessmen, those less than 25 years of age or more than 56, and those espousing a liberal or hedonistic attitude towards life. Urban wives were unlikely to have risked extramarital sex, but it was more likely to occur in middle age. These rates are far below those published in the Kinsey reports (1948; 1953). Nevertheless, the impact of extramarital affairs may be considerable. During divorce proceedings in five cities in China in 1985, the occurrence of extramarital affairs was confessed in two thirds of the cases. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]
Adultery, Literature and the Communist Party 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."
Alan Wong of the New York Times wrote: “The Communist Party regularly employs a variety of muffled euphemisms for sexual misdeeds: moral corruption, dissolute lifestyle and the like. But in a rare display of lucidity, China’s top antigraft body actually used the Chinese word for adultery — tongjian — while announcing the expulsion of a party member. The departure from normal party parlance drew a flurry of comments and speculation online. “If adultery alone were enough to expel a party member, I doubt how many of the 80 million members would be qualified to stay,” said a post on NetEase Weibo. “It gives the impression that” the expulsion “was not because of his adultery, but who he committed it with.” [Source: Alan Wong, Sinosphere Blog, New York Times, June 9, 2014 +/+]
“All of which prompted the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection to issue a response: In a statement titled “Through a Buzzword: Looking at Party Rules Being Stricter Than National Laws” posted on the commission’s website, adultery is defined as “voluntary sexual behavior between a married person and a person of the opposite sex apart from his or her spouse, a behavior in violation of socialist morality.” The statement explains that while adultery is not prosecutable under Chinese law, it is punishable under Communist Party rules, and that “party members and cadres must not only obey national laws, but also — even more so — party rules.” +/+
“The commission had said that Dai Chunning, a former senior executive of a state-owned insurance company, was expelled from the party for corruption and adultery. The state news agency Xinhua noted that the word “tongjian” had last been used two years previously, in the expulsion of Mao Xiaoping (yes, an amalgam of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping), a deputy party secretary in the eastern province of Jiangsu. +/+
“It remains to be seen whether “adultery” will show up again soon or whether party pronouncements will revert to more familiar phrases. Regardless, in April, The Beijing News deciphered some of the euphemisms most often used to describe the sexual indiscretions of targets of corruption investigations. They included: Moral corruption, or “daode baihuai”: Means involved in prolonged, improper relationships with multiple women, relationships with prostitutes or adultery. Examples: Liu Zhijun, former railways minister; Guo Yongxiang, former aide to Zhou Yongkang, the fallen security czar. Dissolute lifestyle, or “shenghuo fuhua”: Means keeping mistresses who are also involved in corruption or other unlawful activities. Example: Liu Zhihua, former deputy mayor of Beijing.
“The newspaper also noted prominent exceptions. Neither Bo Xilai, the disgraced Communist Party aristocrat, nor Wang Lijun, his former police chief in the city of Chongqing, were given any of the above labels, even though both were said to have had improper sexual relationships with multiple women. +/+
How to Seduce a Woman By Having Sex With a Different Woman
In “The Carnal Prayer Mat” (Rou Putuan), written in the 17th century by Li Yu, Quan has joined the Iron Door household as a manservant, intent on seducing Jade Scent. He lets her overhear him making love to his new wife” “On previous nights he had blown out the lamp before going to bed, but on this occasion, as if he knew someone was watching and wanted to show off his effects, he neither blew out the lamp nor let down the screen. Before entering Ruyi, he told her to fondle his penis, which was over eight inches long and too big to be grasped. By this time her well-reamed vagina was no longer too tight, and Quan extended all of his powers. The number of his thrusts compared well with what Jade Scent had read of in her books, for he refused to stop until he had given several thousand, by which time Ruyi had graduated from acute discomfort to the most acute pleasure. In fact the fluid that resulted from her observing exceeded that of the sexual act itself, and not only were her trousers wet, even the top part of her stockings was damp. [Source:, Amitabha Mukerjee, book excerptise, August 26, 2010;“The Carnal Prayer Mat” (Rou Putuan) by Li Yu, translated by Patrick Hanan, Ballantine Books, 1990]
Henceforth Jade Scent was obsessed with Quan. He, for his part, changed his tune the moment he entered the household, dropping his prudish ways completely. Whenever he met Jade Scent, he stole glance after glance at her. If she smiled, he smiled too, and if she looked sad, he responded with a sad look of his own. One day she was taking a bath in her room, when he passed by and happened to cough. She realized who it was and, hoping to arouse his desires by getting him to look at her, called out, "I'm taking a bath in here! Whoever that is outside, don't come in!"
Quan knew she meant it in the sense of there's no money here. Not wishing to disappoint her, he moistened a tiny patch on the paper window and observed her from above. Jade Scent saw there was someone outside the window and knew it must be Quan. Previously she had had her back to the window, but now she turned around until her breasts and vulva faced it directly, offering them for his inspection. Lest the most important part of all be half hidden underwater, she lay back and spread her legs, giving him a full frontal view. Then, after lying like that for a while, she sat up, cradled her vulva in both hands, looked at it, and heaved a deep sigh, as if to say she was longing for a chance to put it to use.
At this sight Quan's desires flared up until they could no longer be held in check. Moreover, he knew that her desire was at its height and that she felt bitterly frustrated. If he did not accept the invitation to her party, he would be blamed, and conversely, if he did accept it, he would never be turned away. He pushed the door open, burst in, and kneeling down in front of her, pleaded, "your slave deserves to die!" Then, scrambling to his feet, he took her in his arms.
Jade Scent pretended to be shocked. "How dare you take such liberties!"...He raised his penis and rubbed it on both sides of the vulva. Afraid not only to enter the inner room but even to ascend the hall [a reference to Confucius' Analects], he thrust away between her thighs. Why do you suppose he did this? He was employing the method known as Clearing Away the Rocks to Get the Spring Flowing. The best lubricant in the world is vaginal fluid... Spit, although acceptable is simply no match. The water from another spring is never as good as one's own. -
Abandoned Wives: Victims of Cheating Chinese Husbands
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.
Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, ““When Zhang Yufen’s husband finally admitted to having an affair and left her to live with his mistress, clearing out his possessions and emptying their joint bank account, she felt as though the sky had fallen on her head. But after a week in which she barely ate or slept, her pain and anger were channeled into a new determination: to find out who his mistress was, where they were living and why he had turned his back on 16 years of marriage — and to force him to provide proper financial support for her and their young son. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, February 10, 2015]
The wives of husbands with misstresses “are often pushed aside, neglected and forgotten. Divorce carries stigma for a woman, although not for a man, and divorce law and the courts are often stacked in the husband’s favor. Zhang said: “There is no protection for wronged wives. In most cases they are left with no money, no house and no guarantees.I understand why a lot of women don’t want a divorce. In smaller places, people gossip. They often laugh at the wife, but they don’t necessarily judge the husband. She often feels shame and loss of face.”
Some wronged wives fight back, even employing their own style of vigilante justice. Jessica Meyers wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ A gang of angry wives beat an accused mistress last year in the middle of a crowded street, one of several incidents that went viral on the Internet. This “indicates that Chinese women are much more assertive and vocal than in the past, and that extramarital affairs are more common, ” said Sandy To, who studies Chinese relationships and lectures in the University of Hong Kong’s sociology department. “Marriage itself is becoming more fickle, with individuals more interested in pursuing their own gratification.” [Source: Jessica Meyers, Los Angeles Times, November, 25, 2017]
Female Chinese Detective Helps Wronged Wives
Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, Yang decided there was only one way to seek justice against her cheating husband was “good old-fashioned detective work — and only one person to do it, and that was her. In the search for her husband and his mistress, and in her long court battle with them, Zhang embarked on a journey that led her to establish what could be China’s only women’s detective agency, working on behalf of wronged wives. Her methods are low-tech, labor-intensive and painstaking: While speaking, she showed off two hand-held tape recorders, two pairs of binoculars, a cheap camera and a notebook. She talks of hiding behind trees and electricity poles, of long stakeouts and of following her quarry in taxis and on foot. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, February 10, 2015]
“In the course of investigating officials throughout China’s civil service, Zhang says she has been threatened with violence and arrest; her evidence has been thrown out of court by judges who are sympathetic to the husbands or in collusion with them. But she has had successes. In 2009, she was approached by the wife of a senior railway official, she says, and discovered that he was having an affair with a local television anchor. “I told the wife to go there, and she caught them in bed together,” she said. “She grabbed her husband’s phones and found pictures of many women, and their phone numbers.” Zhang said she found that he had 17 mistresses in the different cities where he worked. He was promoting his relatives inside the railway system and raking in huge kickbacks from construction contracts. His wife got the divorce, Zhang said, but the evidence of corruption was never admitted in court or acted on by his superiors.
“In another case, Zhang helped a woman from Xi’an whose husband had divorced her. Despite his cheating, the judge had awarded him the family land. Subsequently, and with Zhang’s help, the woman — who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared her remarks would be taken as criticism of the Communist Party — said she followed her husband for two years before finally tracking down where he lived, breaking in and gathering evidence of infidelity and corruption. “It was really difficult because he had a car, and we had to move on foot and by taxi,” she said. “But Zhang and the other wronged wives stood up for me. Come heavy snow or scorching sun, they followed him, they never gave up.”
“Zhang’s husband worked in the district taxation bureau in the city of Xi’an. She says she spent five years following him and his mistress, who turned out to be her best friend. She tried unsuccessfully to sue him for bigamy. She finally won a divorce and received a payout in 2007. Later, she confronted her former husband and asked him why he had broken their marriage. “He said: ‘Everyone in the taxation bureau had a mistress. I would have lost face if I didn’t have one.’ ”
Chinese Detective Agency Specializes in Wronged Wives
Simon Denyer wrote in the Washington Post, “Inspired by her own experience, Zhang in 1997 gradually started taking other people’s cases. Word of her work soon spread: She remembers being approached early on for help by an elderly woman whose daughter had drunk pesticide because her husband was cheating on her. “I asked her why they didn’t take the husband to court, and she said they didn’t have the evidence.”To gather the evidence, Zhang established the Fire Phoenix agency in 2003 with nine friends, but she says she charged only for basic expenses, and a lack of finance eventually forced it to close. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, February 10, 2015]
“These days, Zhang, 57, works alone from her small apartment outside Beijing, running the Alliance Against Mistresses, an organization that combines detective work with advice and advocacy for wronged wives. She still only charges for expenses. Some have nicknamed this lively, talkative woman the ernai shashou, or “mistress killer.” Over the years, she says, thousands of women have come to her for the evidence they need to prove their husbands were cheating — and to force them to pay compensation. But not all want to go to court.
“Zhang says her efforts to expose official corruption often run into brick walls. One court mysteriously “lost” the evidence she had presented, while another, she alleges, warned the husband, who had time to empty a bank account of savings well beyond his earnings. Sometimes she presents evidence of corruption to an official’s boss, and the boss won’t want to listen, probably because he is corrupt himself, she says.
“The profession of private detective was officially banned in 1993, although the business flourished, largely underground. Zhu Ruifeng, a “citizen reporter” who runs a Web site aimed at exposing corruption, said many people hire private detectives — mostly men — in marital cases. “Often it’s the officials’ wives who want to protect their interests in case of a divorce; or to hold the evidence of infidelity as a card to secure the marriage; or sometimes mistresses have private detectives get evidence just in case,” he said. In recent years, the work has become more dangerous. Even while President Xi Jinping wages a campaign against official corruption, the government has cracked down hard on freelance private eyes.“It shows Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is highly selective, and aimed at clearing out those not on his side,” Zhu said.
Mistress Hunters in China
Jessica Meyers wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Zhu Lifei took the call on one of his two cellphones — both of which ring constantly. A woman in Hangzhou needed help. She couldn’t leave her unfaithful husband and begged Zhu’s company to do what it does best: Get rid of the mistress. He sent his team to confront the lover. It didn’t work. So they covered the wife with chicken blood and dented her car, faking an accident to gauge the husband’s sympathy. He didn’t care. “People hate us, ” Zhu said.[Source: Jessica Meyers, Los Angeles Times, November, 25, 2017]
“Zhu, 30, runs Changzhou Sincere Heart Marriage and Family Consulting, one of several Chinese companies that have found opportunity in desperation. Part detective, part confidant, they specialize in sabotaging extramarital relationships by steering lovers away from cheating spouses. They’re known as mistress hunters, affairs doctors or splitting specialists — an antidote to the rising divorce rate and loosening morals. “They create chaos, ” said Liu Weimin, president of the Guangdong Marriage and Family Counselors Assn. With marriages, “we have to deal with the internal problem in order to solve the external one.”
“Though most mistress hunting companies sprout up in wealthy metropolises on the coast, such as Shanghai or Shenzhen, Zhu’s enterprise sits in the nondescript, third-tier southern city of Changzhou. His 12th-floor office, located in a building littered with cigarette butts, is stuffed with cubicles. Counseling accreditation plaques hang near the entrance. Zhu’s staff of 23 includes psychologists, lawyers, counselors and beauticians — who make the customer more alluring. Men occasionally request his services, but the majority of clients are women who want their marriages rescued. For that, he charges $15,000 to $150,000.
How Mistress Hunters in China Operate
Jessica Meyers wrote in the Los Angeles Times: ““Zhu tailors plans for his high-roller customers and recently partnered with a law firm next door so the company can better investigate mistresses. Zhu said he succeeded in 73 percent of his 362 cases last year. Customers call in a panic, and conversations “always end with: ‘Money is not a problem.’” Companies such as Zhu’s cater to an affluent clientele that has much to lose financially in a divorce and little faith in lengthy court procedures. [Source: Jessica Meyers, Los Angeles Times, November, 25, 2017]
“Sometimes one of Zhu’s psychologists and a jilted wife directly confront the mistress. More often they resort to a “public relations consultant” — a.k.a. fake suitor — to split up the lovers. The company trains these employees on luxury brands, wine and Western food, delights they believe will entice a mistress away from a straying husband.
“In one last year, Zhu and his team got a call. They researched the mistress’ habits and then set up an employee with the fake identity of an affluent auctioneer. The man rented an apartment in Hong Kong, down the hall from the mistress. Zhu’s stylists, in the meantime, gave the wife a new look. Behavioral specialists coached her to sound more appealing. He hired fake loan sharks to show up at the mistress’ apartment and demand money. The “auctioneer” appeared afterward with wine to ease her stress. He sent presents the cheating husband would find, so as to arouse suspicion and foment distrust between the couple. In several months, the affair was over. “We are fighting for justice, ” said Zhu, who has a master’s in business administration and a marriage counseling certificate.
“In most interventions, which tend to last one to six months, Zhu’s employee withdraws afterward with an excuse such as family disapproval. In the rare instance of male clients, Zhu provides a female affairs doctor. “It feels like we have achieved something, helping to repair marriages, ” said the fake auctioneer, who would not provide his name out of safety concerns.
“On a balmy day in November 2017, Zhu and his team pondered how to salvage the marriage of the Hangzhou wife whose husband barely noticed her “car accident.” Psychological consultant Meng Hao suggested threatening to expose the affair to local media. (The mistress later became more aggressive, at one point slapping the wife in an encounter. So they turned to a splitting specialist whose presence demonstrated to the husband how little his lover valued him and how much she enjoyed his money. It took 13 days.)
“But such an approach almost always ends up punishing the mistress and not the deviant spouse. Critics point to this dynamic and accuse companies of lacking either moral principles or legal grounds. “It all depends how they hunt the mistresses and how they persuade them to leave, ” said Hailey Han, a civil attorney based in Shanghai. Companies enter illegal territory when uncovering information through apartment break-ins or other nonpublic means, she said. Zhu says the company does not violate anyone’s privacy and employs the law firm to stay within legal bounds. He sees himself as the man who mends marriages, creating unorthodox solutions in a society that eschews public discussion of private matters. “When I get phone calls, someone is cheating, someone is splitting, ” he said. “My heart is tired.” The phones rang beside him as he spoke, playing the same few lines of a Chinese love song.
Women Who Have Affairs in China
A number of rich women have also taken 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.
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.
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.
Last updated September 2021