Can You Afford a Mistress?

Apparently the economic boom in China is convincing men they can afford anything they want, including multiple mistresses.

Historically only the wealthiest Chinese men could afford legions of mistresses and concubines. Cultural attitudes towards cheating husbands were permissive — if he’s successful enough to afford two women, he deserves them both, popular thinking dictated. Emperors, noblemen and the most prestigious businessmen were renowned for their harems.

Literature and the arts conjured fairy-tale images of joining an alpha-male’s harem: the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber tells the story of a Qing dynasty concubine who collects so much money that her entire family becomes fabulously wealthy. Thanks to her earnings, her brothers are even able to afford their own concubines, according to a write-up in TIME Magazine.

The modern-day economic boom is creating a resurgence of mistresses and concubines in China, the article says:

They have this traditional idea that having more women equates to being more successful,” says Li (Yinhe, a researcher at the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences).

And many women share the same sentiment:

“I’d rather cry in the back seat of a BMW than smile on a back of a bike,” is the common attitude of a certain segment of young girls when they are looking for wealthy partners.

Even China’s online dating websites cater to it:

… women cannot search for potential mates by common interests or hobbies, but they can select whether they require their prospective partner to have a house and a car, as well as the minimum salary level they would find acceptable.

Although the TIME story detailing this is entitled Can Education Curb a Mistress Epidemic?, the most desirable women are beautiful ladies with the best academic track record — the Chinese equivalent of a Barbie with a Harvard degree:

A recent online exposé revealed a (mistress) agency in Shanghai that provided a menu of potential college-student mistresses … The annual maintenance fees ranged from just $3,000 for students in less renowned schools to about $26,000 for students from the best campuses.

That’s right, ladies. Study hard, get good grades, so that you can become … a high-class mistress. I wonder what kind of grades you need to get promoted to “wife?” (Insert sarcasm here.)

Let’s hear from the readers — what do you think of the mistress epidemic? Is it a sign that women’s rights haven’t progressed as far in China as they have in the U.S. — or are the Chinese simply more open and accepting of the “golddigger” reality?

Source: Can China Curb a Mistress Epidemic?, May 18, 2011, TIME Magazine


  1. says

    It doesn’t sound like human rights in general have advanced as far in China according to an American perspective. I am not surprised by this article. I would like to say that I cannot afford a mistress. I can barely afford my wife (LOL).

  2. says

    I went to China for a few weeks, about 20 years ago. It was an absolutely tremendous cultural experience, though I came away more thankful than ever to be an American. Clearly, they didn’t have the same freedoms we have, and I wonder if that permeated into the culture there – to the point where now, there are “growing pains” in terms of handling money and success.

    It’s too bad about this trend over mistresses. What’s galling to me is that concept you outlined that some there say “I’d rather cry in the back seat of a BMW than smile on a back of a bike”. Such short-sighted thinking in my view, though I don’t doubt that some people here at home have some variation of that philosophy in their minds. I guess my way of thinking is different!

    Also – isn’t there an overabundance of males now, and less females in China – due to the one-child policy and some parents tragically steering away from female babies? This would make for more competition for a wife for men there, let alone the idea of two!

  3. says

    I think sometimes the media tends to exaggerate events outside the western hemisphere.

    China has a billion plus population and lot of strange things happen. Are all these really as common as we are led to believe?

    Interesting side effect though of wealth!

  4. says

    No answer to the post, but I got a giggle out of the fact that you illustrated a post on mistresses and multiple partners with a photo of what appears to be a Buddhist monk (someone who has vowed celibacy).

    You might consider changing the image you chose for the post.

  5. says

    It’s hard to judge because we were raised in two different societies, and two different ways. In my opinion, it’s really hard to grasp how they can be comfortable with this though.

  6. says

    As Money Cone stated, I’m not sure how common this is- but of course I’m not surprised by this either. Having women on the side and treating them with lush gifts, food or whatever else (like money to support themselves or send to family) is quite common socially throughout cultures, especially as economic circumstances emerge from overall poverty.

    I don’t blame the women though- nor the men. These kinds of relationships are forms of status for some, and terms of survival for others..for some women this may be the only means they have to getting a piece of the wealth pie, as heartbreaking as that is to say. I can’t say it’s any more immoral than people in relationships for the money or people who buy sex or hire girlfriends for the weekend (yes, you can do that too for special events to have a date or companionships and they call themselves “girlfriends” not escorts!)

  7. says

    Oh and the hiring of “girlfriends” happens in the U.S., usually in wealthy areas or sources of economic growth (like Silicon Valley)…in grad school I wrote about changes in the U.S. sex trade, so I suppose things like this don’t seem so far off since it happens here too more often than I was previously aware of.

  8. says

    @cashflowmantra — LOL. I’ve been tweeting the headline “Can you afford a mistress?,” and a few women have written back to say “Thank God my husband can’t!”

    @Squirrelers — I had the same thought about the one-child policy; the skewed male-female ratios there must make it hard enough to have one woman. I wonder if that adds to the “prestige” of having two?

    @MoneyCone — the media does like to latch onto ‘sensational’ stories, for sure. I noticed that the article was written by a Chinese journalist … but of course, that doesn’t mean anything; he may be just as prone to sensationalism.

    @kh — I took that photo about two years ago; my hard drive from that trip crashed, erasing most of my pictures. I choose it because it’s one of the few photos I have left from that trip — plus I liked the juxtaposition between the monk and the “regular” boy in blue jeans whom he’s standing next to.

    @radman — I know, can you imagine the work involved with having to remember two or more sets of birthdays, anniversaries, flowers “just because”… ?

    @20 and Engaged — It’s also hard for me to imagine being with a man I don’t like, just for the money, especially when the “transaction” is as stark as an agency charging a fee.

    @Shannyn — I was wondering how much this happens in the U.S. … if maybe Chinese society is just more open about it, while here it happens behind closed doors.

  9. says

    “They have this traditional idea that having more women equates to being more successful”

    Anyone notice the verb used here? How cam women accept being treated like property? If women can work and have their own successful careers, they are the one to blame for letting this mentality continue.

  10. says

    I think many men have a difficult enough time affording a girl friend or wife. I did find it interesting that men were concerned about academic achievements especially since they were not interested in procreating with these women.

  11. says

    You’re right about that, Paula. I have some male friends from China and they always tell me the same thing when they’ve found a new girlfriend “She’s really pretty and an excellent student!”. It’s very much a part of the culture and I think it’s something we could all learn from!

  12. says

    Ash @ sterling effort – it would be interesting to know if your Chinese friends would notice academic excellence if the lady in question looked like the back end of a bus.

    @ afford anything – it is well known that we in the west are conditioned to marry for love – even our childhood fairy stories are based around pretty young things bagging their prince. It is not the same all over the world.

    In many parts of the world, marriages are more unions between two families rather than two people: a meeting of two family firms. Many couples couples agree to marriage on the basis of liking the partner, shared values and being able to rub along nicely. Some hope ‘love will grow’.

    With that in mind,lets consider your question as a straight trade:

    Nubile girl with pretty face trades her youth for access to older chap’s bulging wallet.

    Taking the romantic notion of love out of the equation, it is easy to see that the man gets a pay-as-you-go Harvard Barbie (as you put it)to massage his ego in exchange for his cash and a share in his lifestyle.

    She gets to pay her college fees and, I assume, build a career and marry better than she could without a degree. Another, less obvious benefit, is maybe that by being the mistress of a richer man, she gets to learn about how to operate in a class with higher status than her own. A marriage finishing school, if you like.

    Do I find it weird? Sure do. But I can see the cold hard logic.

    • says

      @Growing My Own — I totally understand what you mean. My parents had an arranged marriage (I’m South Asian), so their marriage was certainly a combining of two families, rather than the result of any love or bond between them. They didn’t meet each other until after their wedding. They didn’t even see a photograph of each other before they got married, nor did they talk on the phone or exchange letters or have any kind of communication at all. Their wedding was the first time they laid eyes on each other, and post-wedding was the first time they spoke.

      Of course, they also lived in a society that is very, very monogamous. Regarding the article about mistresses in China: It’s the mistress part of this equation — not so much the how-to-pick-a-spouse part — that’s throwing me off.

  13. says

    Hey Paula

    “It’s the mistress part of this equation — not so much the how-to-pick-a-spouse part — that’s throwing me off.”

    I don’t know how common this mistress thing is in China.

    But on a straight trade level, I can only think of what I said in my last post:

    ‘Nubile girl with pretty face trades her youth for access to older chap’s bulging wallet.’

    The other thing is that the imbalance of numbers between males and females in China is well documented. So there’s fewer females than men and even fewer highly educated females.

    That must make educated females a scarcity and young, ‘hot’, educated females a even rarer.

    You are right though, why are these young, hot, educated females being snapped up for marriage? Maybe they are but they are choosing too marry later. It’s just conjecture on my part and I don’t know much about it though I do find the subject matter interesting.

    One final comment, we in the west have a very specific view of what ‘a mistress’ is. Perhaps ‘mistresses’ are viewed differently in China. Again, I don’t know, but it may be that being ‘a mistress’ in China comes with a different set of rules, social standing and etiquette.

  14. says

    Worked in China for over 12 years and lived in China for over 5 years and what I can tell you is that mistresses (ernai or second wife) are all over the place!

    From as little as US$1,000 per month you can have a HOT 20 year old girl or two or three or four or more!

    They do whatever you like whenever you like however you like!

    The place is screwed-up literally!

    And the mistresses and their families are proud of what and who they are doing! You can reasonably say that 95% of wealthy men in China have one or more mistresses. And Japanese, Korean and Hong Kong business men in China are part of the game as well. Even Hong Kong taxi drivers have mistresses on the mainland, some of these mistresses are shared between two or more men who cant afford one of their own.

    To be honest the mistresses are more evil than their owners, they will plot against the wife and or other second wife’s. They will have lovers, probably their college boyfriend who is their true love who could have even put them up to it so that they can have a better life together later on. They will also have sex with other wealthy men for money as a back-up or just in case they need the latest iPad or Dior handbag or watch.

    When you see an old wealthy Chinese guy with a young hot girl in tow in the US or Australia it is not his daughter, it is one of his mistresses!

    They even get their mistresses residency in the US or Australia set up a home there for them and pretend that they are married so the sugar daddy can get residency as well. How do you think all of these poor Chinese girls are getting college degrees in the US UK and Australia? Their sugar daddy is paying for everything! Oh and half of these mistresses don’t even attend college or the exams, they pay a professional student to do college for them!

    Think about it some poor Chinese girl leaves college in China for a job that pays only US$500 per month or they can live in the US or Australia for 3 years all expenses paid and get paid US$1,500 per month to do it with a guaranteed job back in China if they pass all of the exams for the sugar daddy’s mistress – Its a no-brainer!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *