I remember that when my family lived in Taiwan in the late Nineties, we would take nice long drives up into the mountains. You’d see all kinds of things up there. Tea plantations, aboriginal villages, poinsettia trees the size of small oaks blooming crimson at the side of the road…soldiers armed with machine guns searching truckers and cars for drugs. You know, stuff.
We also once saw a billboard advertising the arranged marriages of Mainland Chinese women.
Yes, women just up and ready for marriage. As in, women to be sold into marriage (via brokers). Women from certain small Chinese villages, forced to line up in a row and present themselves to traveling groups of Taiwanese men, who would interview and choose girls to take home with them (presumably the visa process was expedited as part of the service fee). Because Mainland Chinese women—so it was said—were prettier, not too educated, and would ‘take care of their men.’
Now, this was not seen as human trafficking, but mere matchmaking. And the guys who would do this presumably had money and could take care of their women, so it was a win-win situation, right? I mean, no one forced these girls to participate. Right?
Right. I feel so much better.
Now, this kind of thing happens all over the world. But since I’m in China, let’s talk about China—and the idea of women as commodities, women as objects to be shown off like prized race horses, this culture (and economy) of mistresses and concubines.
The women I mentioned at the beginning of the post don’t fit into the category of a mistress. Those were women meant for marriage—supposedly. But the distinction is important over here. For some of these fat cat older men, wives are meant to fulfill familial obligations. You have a mistress, on the other hand, because it looks good. It means you’re rich enough to support another woman. If you can afford more than one mistress, then my God, you’re a stud. You’re living the dream.
Again, I’m speaking in generalities. But I’m not wrong, either. And it’s not just men keeping lovers on the side. Married women also find companions—love companions—because often they haven’t married for love (again, as I discussed before, there is a sense sometimes of marriage as an obligation, rather than choice), and so they seek affection elsewhere (sometimes while married to husbands who are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away).
But women with ‘misters’, I’d say, are far less accepted than the alternative. And it’s a little different from the situation I’m getting at, which is overwhelmingly macho and part of an industry filled with young women whose job it is to please men and make them look like hot stuff. Seriously. These dudes compete. And oftentimes the most highly sought after women are incredibly smart and capable, beautiful (oh, I have seen some breathtaking girls catering to men old enough to be their grandfathers), and college educated. Because this is a job, sometimes a lucrative one, and with recent graduates in China fighting tooth and nail for work, for some this seems like a good and acceptable option (that, or you can advertise as a potential housewife).
“Outside top flight colleges all over China expensive cars are parking by the campus gates. It seems like everyone is waiting to pick someone up. Some, of course, are parents who’ve come to see their children, some are friends, but some are middle aged business men waiting to collect their mistress. These girls, most of whom are from ordinary backgrounds, use the system of older men picking up a college girl to use at the weekend as his mistress as a means to gain money and other luxuries that would otherwise be way beyond their reach…A wealthy male student told reporters that it is becoming more and more popular for older men to want to have a pet college girl of his own. In fact, the student said that several of his father’s friends had approached him asking if he could help them find a girl in his year for them to ‘make friends’ with. He reportedly refused these requests.”
Nice, right? This is becoming more common, especially at lower tier schools. Not to mention an actual economy has grown up around these kept women, from housing to luxury items. Most ordinary folks in China aren’t shopping for Gucci, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton (and these stores are so common in Shanghai and Beijing, it’s almost a joke) but rich dudes who want to buy a present for their mistresses? Bingo. From my perch at the Starbucks in the China World Mall in Beijing, I have seen parades of gloriously beautiful and well-groomed young, young women, floating on impossibly perfect legs into these stores, secure upon the arms of old men who it would be kind to call gross. And trust me, they were not fathers and daughters, or grandfathers and granddaughters, or nieces, or whatever—but something else entirely, and very intimate.
Is there love involved? Sure, sometimes. I’m not that mean. I’m not even jaded (well, maybe a little when it comes to this situation). But it confounds me, I admit. I know all the reasons, I know for some girls it’s a better option than the alternative, I know and I know. You gotta do what you gotta do. Money and survival don’t come cheap. I don’t question that.
But these guys who take pride in keeping women on the side? And the acceptance by many that this behavior isn’t somehow problematic? Wow. But not much of a surprise, either. The fast growth of wealth in China, combined with men who are thinking caveman-with-their-you-know-whats (not to mention the historical context of concubines—which my own great-grandfather had three of in addition to his wife) has created this industry. Which, as an outside chick looking in, isn’t something to be proud of, despite the chest beating I see every night when I take a walk around areas where businessmen like to hang it loose after hours.
There have been consequences, as seen in corruption charges being brought against men who have had to get dirty in order to maintain their women. Here’s another article about such a scandal, with this classic quote:
The party has become so alarmed at the connection between corruption and mistresses that last year it announced that all officials would have to register their lovers. Internet sites have begun to keep league tables of the cases, including a planning official with 140 mistresses and a textile industry supervisor was found to possess diaries containing hair belonging to 235 different women.