I accidentally saw an article about mistresses in China on my phone one night and since it was written in October 2013 later checked how prevalent the practice was still today. It is. In June 2017 the New Yorker published an article on China’s mistress-dispellers, a kind of new profession whereby third parties are hired by wives to get rid of their husbands’ mistresses. What struck me was not how common the practice of having a mistress is, it was how these women saw it as a step up for them. Many came from rural China and were trying to escape poverty. They would end up in things like karaoke bars, having to sometimes sleep with customers, if they paid enough. Sometimes too they had been involved in more conventional forms of prostitution. If they were noticed by a man who wanted to take care of them they jumped at the chance. They then would live in fancy apartments, had an allowance, received gifts. There were times when several of them could be in different apartments in the same building, so it was possible for them to meet, talk and share notes. They work hard for what they have to do to maintain the interest of “my man” as they would refer to the men keeping them. They explain it as a question of being sincere about liking him and enjoying being with him, being interested in his life, at the same time mean it so that it would feel and be real to him even if they did not feel the same–anything so they would not have to go back to the karaoke bar, or their previous life. Some were able to save money, buy apartments, invest all the while enjoying certain luxuries. Many of the men were public officials, so essentially they were being supported by public funds. That is of course not how their wives saw it. In a culture where divorce is not accepted as it is in the West, their option was to use mistress-dispeller. He or she would shame, intimidation or perhaps make friends with the mistress and then have his picture taken with her if he was a man, and later send it to the husband, who felt deceived and would break off the relationship.
I couldn’t help think that rare among us would be the woman who would give up her freedom and opportunities for their luxury and makeshift security. In turn what would these Chinese women do if they could have what we have?