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.

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
The actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Microsoft Dynamics NAV Functional Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

Business Analyst, Retail Bank, £375-400p/d

£375 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Embedded Software Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + V. Competitive : Progressive Recruitment: Embedded...

Senior SAP HR Business Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a Global Professional Service...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game