China’s top court is about to make a ruling on the legal rights of husbands, wives, and mistresses. The very fact that adultery has emerged publicly as a social issue highlights a huge contradiction in Chinese society, one most citizens try to ignore.
Chinese will be the first to tell you that they are a very conservative and traditional culture. This is a flat-out lie.
Now, I could devote my first novel to this topic, but let me be short: The Chinese are equally as perverted and promiscuous as the next clan.
Sex shops (成人用品) are everywhere, as are the red-hair salons. I’ve seen businessmen readjusting their ties as they walk out of a lunchtime “haircut” without the slightest out-of-the-ordinary on their face. I’ve been in Family Mart, one of the largest convenience stores in China and Taiwan, where a large dildo in various colors was available at checkout next to the gum and lighters.
Sex is an integral part of society and often a direct measure of male status.
The adultery endemic is laughed off when discussed among friends. But its implications stretch into an overwhelming majority of households.
I know men who rent apartments for 二奶 (lit. second lady or second milk, which is more disturbing; also called 小老婆, little wife). Sometimes their wives live in the same city, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the wives know, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there are no children, or a family at home, or a family in both homes. As long as the man is winning that bread, the charade goes on.
Sex is business. Some of my closest friends closed countless deals in karaoke houses known for their female escorts. One of the largest in a former city was like a coliseum, with a stage in the center. Young women came out solo or in sets to sing, to dance, or just to saunter up and down the stage wearing a beauty-pageant sash or ribbon with a number on it. Back in the room, you ordered to your liking.
Now, mind you this doesn’t always mean prostitution. Most of the time, these girls’ primary job is to keep pouring drinks until someone embarrasses themselves. If you hold out the longest, you earn that deal.
I knew a young lady who once told me she would be ashamed to marry a man who didn’t have at least one mistress. She believed it would show she chose an undesirable or unsuccessful mate. She also told me that she would get married within six months of that conversation (though single at the time), and that Chinese had a deeper understanding of love than foreigners.
None of this really bothers me. The exploitation of it is fucked. But just as often, these young ladies are exploiting these 土包子 (derogatory term for the newly rich) as The New York Times article mentions. It’s a complicit agreement, as is the cover-up. “It’s our culture, you could never understand,” Chinese will tell you. It’s a common refrain when discussing the less rosy side of rapid development in the country.
It’s much the same in Taiwan. I know plenty of businessmen here who jet-set across the strait with fully functioning families on each side. I know PR guys can’t ink a client without sending a portfolio of showgirls for events. Not to mention “dirty KTVs” and enough ”love hotels” (fancy rooms-by-the-hour) to house half the population.
Traditional is as traditional does. They say the foreigners are the dirty pervs. Don’t let ‘em fool ya.