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Wealthy Chinese Inflate Dangerous Mistress Bubble

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"As China has shed its chaste Communist mores for the wealth and indulgences of a market-oriented economy, the boom has bred a generation of nouveau-riche lotharios yearning to rival the sexual conquests of their imperial ancestors. Even the Chinese term for mistress -- ernai, or second wife -- harks back to that polygamous tradition of yore," writes Dan Levin in today's New York Times.

“Walk around Beijing and what do you see? ‘Buy a new Audi, look at this Rolex, you need some clothes from Gucci,’" law professor Zhou Guanquan tells Levin. “Such things are simply unaffordable, but becoming a mistress can solve this problem.”

(Indeed, the "mistress bubble" has appeared to deflate when the economy sputters, as a Chinese businessman found out in early 2009, while staging a competition to winnow his stable of five ernai down to one. He was killed after one contestant, eliminated "for her looks," drove him and her four rivals over a cliff.)

The current situation has also seen the rise of China's own sexting scandals; this week, messages sent to his various mistresses by Wang Xiangui, a department chief at the Guiyang, Guizhou province taxation bureau, hit the Internet after Wang lost his cellphone.


Amid concerns that extramarital affairs could lead to corruption, the city of Nanjing issued an order in 2005 "for all public officials to register their extramarital relationships."

And, in 2009, Qi Peiwen, a senior official with the party's Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, warned officials not to become involved with "beautiful women," as such relationships invariably lead to misdeeds.

Shifting values regarding mistresses have coincided with shifting values -- and less-restrictive laws -- regarding divorce.

A 1998 article in The Tech, an independent newspaper published by MIT, explained that "the increasing population of males with white collar jobs and liberal marriage laws have both contributed to the rising divorce rate in China."

"More mature women in China are turning to dating agencies, looking for new mates, after their husband left them for females ten years younger," noted Elaine Wan. "On the other hand, more men with high paying jobs find themselves surrounded by young paramours."

"Many years ago, people who had a mistress, a concubine -- their behavior disgusted everybody," Shu Xin, director of the China Marriage and Family Affairs Consulting and Research Center, said recently. "But nowadays, many people think an extramarital affair is a symbol of success."

Looking into further complexities affecting the situation, a 2007 piece in the Washington Post offered a theory, positing that "the closure of many state-owned companies has reduced the influence of the traditional work unit, or danwei, which controls housing and once approved marriages and divorces."

Others believe the one-child policy may have created a "me" generation with a limited ability to maintain healthy relationships.

"Next time I'll look for a husband with siblings," one Chinese divorcee told NPR last year.

But, perhaps the most interesting example of the reason behind at least one Chinese divorce came last year from Xinhua.

Wrote the state-run news agency:

Li Guoliang, 42, is planning to divorce his wife, not to end an unhappy marriage, but to buy a second home as China's house prices continue to skyrocket. Li's decision came after the Chinese government imposed restrictions on a family purchasing a second home, in a bid to curb property speculation.

"After we get divorced, my wife will claim our house, so that I can apply for a mortgage as a first-home buyer since I don't have a house under my name," Li said. "And we will remarry after that."
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.