If my last post made it seem like the second wife concept is all “plain sailing” for men and the women in their lives, it may have been misleading. One of the main factors cited in corruption cases in China is “the mistress made me do it” defense. Xu Qiyai who headed up the Jiangsiu Construction Bureau back in the year 2000, was found to have nearly 100 “bits on the side” when his business dealings came under the spotlight for being somewhat shady.
Figures from the investigative unit of the judiciary handling corruption cases in China, show that 90% or more of all corrupt officials have a mistress on the go. One city in Sichuan even issued an edict ordering local officials to be faithful to their wives. And in one horrific case a man in Hubei was arrested on suspicion of slaughtering his er nai, who was pregnant at the time with twins, after she gave him an ultimatum of either marrying her or paying her a sum of 2 million RMB (approx. $300,000 USD) in compensation.
Here in Shenzhen, it is suspected that there are a half a million women acting as “second wives” to Hong Kong businessmen, with whole districts of the city accommodating these working girls who get a nice apartment and around $600-1,000 USD a month in spending money from their sometime lovers. This means that their take home pay including benefits is nearly 6 – 8 times that of an ordinary factory worker (the most common profession in the city).
You can even buy a guide book in Hong Kong detailing where to hang out and find yourself a second wife. There are in depth discussions of how much a woman should be paid, and what she should be expected to deliver in exchange for it. The railway line from Hong Kong has been nicknamed; “the concubine express.”
This has caused enormous embarrassment to the government of Guangdong province (which includes Shenzhen and Guangzhou – two of China’s mega cities). So legislation has been passed in the province to make long-term cohabitation illegal, it’s not been very effective in fairness – prosecutions are fleetingly rare and normally only made after a series of complaints about an individual(s).
Not all wives are happy about the arrangement of er nai’s either. There is a thriving trade in mistress killings, where criminal gangs arrange the removal of the second wife for a fee. In one famous case, a businessman advertised online for a fake mistress, so that his wife could beat her up and not his real lover. The (un)lucky applicant was paid 4,000 RMB for a ten minute kicking.
Second wives can also be pretty unhappy when the time comes to end the affair, after all most of them have no other job and have squandered their youth and beauty on a man who is cheating on his wife. This means they can become very, very demanding at the close with expectations of large pay offs. The Chinese legal system is likely to amend the marriage laws ensuring that mistresses are entitled to nothing, and has already rescinded payments to second wives and ordered the return of funds to the actual wife.
So in reality, China’s not so different from the rest of the world – infidelity may have become the norm again, after a long break under the first flourishes of socialism, but it doesn’t make for an easy life for everyone.