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.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
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

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit