Welcome back: Return of capitalism to China means a major comeback for the concubine

The return of mistresses and an explosion in corruption are intimately connected, many angry Chinese believe

Mao Tse-tung tried to stamp the custom out as a relic of feudalism, but the return of capitalism to China has also meant a major comeback for the concubine. And for the long-suffering Chinese public, the compulsion of rich businessmen and jumped-up party officials to prove their wealth and power by the number and gorgeousness of their mistresses is a major factor in the growth of corruption. The angry gossip online is that behind every corrupt official there is a scheming mistress.

"China's future will be undermined in those corrupt officials' hands," wrote one outraged citizen. Another described the corrupt cadres who keep concubines as "absolutely superfluous, vampires, corrupt scum. They deserve to be killed".

Last month, a former chairman of the oil giant Sinopec, Chen Tonghai, was convicted of pocketing 196 million yuan (£17m) in bribes. But what angered Chinese the most was the way he had helped his mistress, Li Wei, to build up her property firm using his business connections. He was given a suspended death sentence.

Concubines are no longer kept hidden away behind closed doors. In modern China's far more open society, concubines can be seen in the shopping malls and cafés of the cities, especially in the south, where there are thousands of what are known as "er nai" or "second breast". By some estimates, more than 90 per cent of the country's most senior officials punished on serious graft charges in the past five years have kept mistresses.

There are lessons from history on the dangers that concubines represent. Concubine Yang was China's most famous mistress, one of the Four Beauties, and Emperor Xuanzong was so besotted with her that he lost his reason. He was forced to execute her to prove that he still had the will to rule. The emperor ultimately lost his grip on power and the glorious Tang dynasty (618-907) went into a decline.

Concubinage has a long history in China and was common right up to the early 20th century. Emperors and warlords kept many concubines as well as wives, and the wives sometimes even presented their husbands with fresh concubines, a practice known as "drinking vinegar".

Young women become concubines today for reasons of money and lifestyle, but also as a way out of poverty. "My son is already two years old, and my son's father is the same age as my father," wrote one anonymous 20-year-old concubine. "I call him 'old man'. He treats me well. Since I gave birth to a son, he bought a 180 square metre house under my name and two shops under my son's name. My days are very comfortable. I never ask him about his business and family, nor press him to divorce. A woman's life is hard and her youth goes quickly, so I cherish the present."

While many successful businessmen also have young lovers, it is the philandering government officials who really infuriate the average Chinese, and when they are found out they often pay a high price. At the very least they can expect the sack, like ex-Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu, dismissed in 2006 for corruption, and ex-Beijing vice-mayor, Liu Zhihua, fired for taking bribes and helping his mistress "seek profit" while he was in charge of the construction of Olympic venues.

Pang Jiayu, a senior cadre in Shaanxi province, gained the nickname "Zipper Mayor" because of his weakness for the pretty young wives of his subordinates when he was mayor of Baoji. Duan Yihe, former party chief of Jinan, capital of Shandong in the northeast, was given a suspended death sentence in 2007 for killing his mistress with a car bomb after he became tired of her constant demands for money.

Some powerful officials in China have tried to bring the feudal institution up to date. Yang Feng, a senior cadre in Anhui province, was found during his corruption trial to have kept eight mistresses whom he managed using corporate management skills learnt during his MBA programme. He appointed one of them top mistress, to supervise the others, but the arrangement collapsed when a younger member of the team applied for the leadership position and his "manager" turned him in.

The current record-holder for the largest number of mistresses is Xu Qiyao, ex-head of construction in Jiangsu province, who amassed 140. Taking a leaf out of the book of bed-hopping British Tory Alan Clark, they included a mother and daughter.

Nor are the sort of exotic obsessions redolent of the remote Chinese past unheard of: an official in the state textile industry in Hainan kept four steel closets which were found to contain 95 diaries in which he recorded all of his sexual relationships, as well as hair samples from 236 different women.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Karim Benzema celebrates scoring the opening goal
liveblogFollow the latest from the Bernabeu as Real Madrid play Bayern Munich
News
Rohff is one of France’s most popular rappers
people
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes has claimed supporters understand the need to look at
sportScot thanks club staff and fans, but gives no specific mention of players
News
Strange 'quack' noises could be undersea chatter of Minke whales
science
News
weird news... and film it, obviously
Arts & Entertainment
tv
News
news
News
peopleThis time as he’s awarded the Freedom of Stirling and handed an honorary degree
Voices
voices Furore is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion, says Nigel Farage
Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor Needed Nottingham/Derbyshire

£3360 - £16800 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Cover Supervisor requ...

English Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: Urgently Required. En...

Supply teachers needed in Cambridgeshire

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are looking ...

Geography Teacher

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents