Thursday, August 11, 2011

Status symbol for China's rich: (fake) Mistresses

BEIJING: Mr Jian, a 42-year-old property developer in the booming southern metropolis of Shenzhen, had acquired just about everything men of his socio-economic class covet: a Mercedes-Benz, a sprawling antique jade collection and a lavishly appointed duplex for his wife and daughter. It was only natural then, he said, that two years ago he took up another costly pastime: a beguiling 20-year-old art major whose affections cost him about US$6,000 (S$7,300) a month. Mr Jian, who asked that his full name be withheld lest it endanger his 20-year marriage, cavorts with his young co-ed in a secret apartment he owns, a price he willingly pays for the modern equivalent of a concubine. 'Keeping a mistress is just like playing golf,' he said. 'Both are expensive hobbies.' BACKGROUND STORY PRICE OF PLEASURE 'Keeping a mistress is just like playing golf... Both are expensive hobbies.' Mr Jian, a 42-year-old property developer in Shenzhen who has a 20-year-old mistress As China sheds 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 - er nai, or second wife - harks back to that polygamous tradition of yore. Judging from the embarrassing revelations that have emerged in recent months, such arrangements appear to be commonplace among corporate titans, rags-to-riches entrepreneurs and government officials whose inordinate and sometimes ill-gotten gains can maintain one or more lovers - many of whom are sustained through stipends, furnished apartments and luxury sports cars. But these relationships - and their sometimes messy devolutions - have ignited a growing backlash as the public stews over the incessant tales of morally compromised officials, greedy lovers and vengeful wives regularly splashed across newspapers and published on the Internet - unless censors get to them first. Last month, Xu Maiyong, the former vice-mayor of the capital of Zhejiang province, Hangzhou, was executed for bribery and embezzlement worth more than US$30 million. Nicknaming him 'Plenty Xu', the Chinese press reported that he had kept dozens of mistresses. A few weeks before, a Jiangsu province official and his mistress were caught making detailed plans for a hotel rendezvous on microblog Sina Weibo, mistakenly believing their messages were private. In February, former railway minister Liu Zhijun, 58, was removed from his post after news reports said he had embezzled US$152 million over the years. But a leaked directive from the Central Propaganda Bureau revealed a more salacious side: 'All media are not to report or hype the news that Liu Zhijun had 18 mistresses.' A month earlier, the mistress of a party official in Guangdong province sentenced to death in a US$4.5 million bribery scandal was herself jailed over the Land Rover and property she had received from him. And in one of the most shocking cases, an official in Hubei province was detained in December on suspicion of strangling his mistress - then pregnant with twins - and dumping her body in a river after she demanded he marry her or pay US$300,000, according to media reports. The phenomenon has been an official concern for some time now. In 2007, China's top prosecutor's office said that 90 per cent of the country's most senior officials felled by corruption scandals in previous years had kept mistresses. Faced with a spate of legal disputes between mistresses and their lovers over money, and with growing public disgust, the Communist Party is trying to staunch the mistress tide through carrots and sticks aimed at men and women alike. The Supreme People's Court has considered a draft interpretation of the country's marriage law that would for the first time acknowledge mistresses, stating that they have no legal right to their patron's money, property and expensive trinkets, legal experts said. Likewise, married men would not be able to use the courts to regain the cash and other niceties they had lavished in affairs gone bad. To combat the growing lure of the sugar daddy, some local governments have preached against moral turpitude and encouraged young women to rely on less carnal skills to survive. To that end, officials in Guangdong announced in March that from later this year, girls in elementary and middle school will have to take a new course in 'self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance and self-improvement'. Such efforts are inspired by what many see as a ballooning moral crisis. Indeed, an entire industry has sprung up luring young women with promises of sexually oriented shortcuts to success. In April, Beijing police broke up a 'college concubine agency' that claimed to connect university students with wealthy admirers for up to US$100,000 a year. 'Walk around Beijing and what do you see? 'Buy a new Audi, look at this Rolex, you need some clothes from Gucci,'' said law professor Zhou Guanquan from Tsinghua University. 'Such things are simply unaffordable, but becoming a mistress can solve this problem.' NEW YORK TIMES