China’s ‘mistress hunters’ aim to save mar­riages from in­fi­delity

Keep­ing er­rant spouses from af­fairs with ‘lit­tle thirds’ is prov­ing to be big busi­ness in China

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Clif­ford Coonan in Bei­jing

While tech­nol­ogy has made hav­ing an af­fair more con­ve­nient, it hasn’t made di­vorce any less dis­as­trous for women

When Tang be­gan to sus­pect last year that her hus­band might be hav­ing an af­fair, she was dev­as­tated and afraid. The 35- year- old Shang­hai res­i­dent couldn’t get di­vorced, prop­erty prices in the fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal would have made it too ex­pen­sive, and it would have harmed her so­cial stand­ing.

In­stead she called the “mistress hunters” to save her mar­riage. Their busi­ness: to ex­ter­mi­nate af­fairs.

“He started to delete his mes­sages and come home late, work­ing over­time a lot. I knew some­thing was wrong,” says the mother of one.

The Weiqing agency em­ploys a team of con­sul­tants who con­vince the mis­tresses, com­monly called xiao san in Chi­nese or “lit­tle third”, to end the af­fair.

Weiqing, or “pro­tec­tor of feel­ings”, also does reg­u­lar mar­riage coun­selling, but mistress hunt­ing makes the head­lines.

Pos­ing as neigh­bours, helpers or build­ing man­agers, the mistress hunters work their way into the con­fi­dence of the “lit­tle third”. “Then the main thing we try to do is com­mu­ni­cate to them that there are bet­ter op­tions avail­able than get­ting in­volved in some­one else’s re­la­tion­ship,” says Ming Li, a le­gendary mistress hunter re­ferred to by clients and staff by the hon­orific “Teacher Ming” to show the es­teem in which she is held. Her job is a bit like be­ing a spy. “We help peo­ple solve prob­lems that oc­cur in peo­ple’s love lives. There are many ways to do this.

With the mistress, we can use the trans­fer­ence method, where we dis­tract their at­ten­tion to some­thing else. Or we can or­gan­ise it so that their jobs get moved some­where else. Or third, we com­mu­ni­cate with the ‘ lit­tle third’ that the per­son they’re dat­ing is ac­tu­ally mar­ried, which some might not know,” says Ming.

De­mand vs sup­ply

“The ser­vice has proven so pop­u­lar, we re­alised that so many peo­ple suf­fer in their mar­riages and need help man­ag­ing their re­la­tion­ships. De­mand al­ways ex­ceeds sup­ply,” she says.

Lin­ger­ing so­cial taboos mean sec­ond mar­riages for women are still far more rare than for men and the stakes are high.

The Chi­nese lan­guage is rich with words for those who have an af­fair or you yi tui, which trans­lates as “have one leg”, sug­gest­ing a leg wrapped around a lover’s. Con­cu­bines were out­lawed by the Com­mu­nists after the rev­o­lu­tion in 1949 but they are back in a ma­jor way, and the num­ber of men with mis­tresses – er nai ( sec­ond wife) or xiao mi (lit­tle honey) – vastly in­creased dur­ing the fat years of the 2000s.

China had more than 3.84 mil­lion di­vorces in 2015, up nearly 6 per cent on the pre­vi­ous year. The coun­try’s fam­ily struc­ture is rigid but, as in other coun­tries, so­cial me­dia make it very easy to have af­fairs.

An or­di­nary con­sult­ing fee costs about 1,000 yuan per hour (¤ 129), ris­ing to 3,000 yuan (¤386) an hour for VIP ser­vice. Peo­ple pay tens of thou­sands of yuan for the full pack­age. They think it’s worth it.

While tech­nol­ogy has made hav­ing an af­fair more con­ve­nient, it hasn’t made di- vorce any less dis­as­trous for women, es­pe­cially when prop­erty prices mean cou­ples can­not af­ford to split the house­hold.

There is even a spe­cific ex­pres­sion in Chi­nese for peo­ple who live to­gether after a di­vorce be­cause they can’t af­ford to sep­a­rate. In most cases, the prop­erty will go the fam­ily who pay for it, which is of­ten the hus­band’s fam­ily as an apart­ment acts as a form of dowry.

“With most of our clients, their part­ner works for a big cor­po­ra­tion, or they are not mar­ried, or peo­ple work­ing in the city away from their spouses, and for them the fee is worth it to save the re­la­tion­ship,” says Ming.

So­cial stand­ing

Mis­tresses have ex­tremely low so­cial stand­ing, but com­pen­sate for their poor sta­tus with in­comes and ben­e­fits that threaten many fam­ily units.

Dur­ing the day­time in the shop­ping malls in Shen­zhen and Shang­hai you see ex­pen­sively dressed, in­vari­ably beau­ti­ful young women wan­der­ing with shiny Louis Vuit­ton and Gucci bags, eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able as the xiao san of a busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive who pays their rent and keeps them in such high style.

De­spite the highly vis­i­ble er nai of the first- tier cities, richer wives of­ten turn a blind eye to mis­tresses as the fam­ily can af­ford it. In poorer house­holds, es­pe­cially among mi­grant work­ers who leave the coun­try­side to work in the cities, it can mean ruin.

Some mistress hunters ad­ver­tise on­line that they will beat up the paramour to save the mar­riage, and are reg­u­larly named and shamed on so­cial me­dia, along with videos show­ing the xiao san be­ing pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated by aveng­ing wives.

Weiqing has 59 of­fices across the coun­try, and there are now 300 con­sul­tants work­ing for the com­pany, all grad­u­ates in law, mar­riage coun­selling or psy­chol­ogy.

When peo­ple come in, it usu­ally takes one or two hours to win some­one’s trust.

“We ask key ques­tions. Some­one hav­ing an af­fair is not happy about the cur­rent re­la­tion­ship. In­stead of solv­ing the prob­lem, they avoid the is­sue by look­ing for some­one else out­side of the mar­riage, but can the prob­lem be solved if you marry some­one else?” says Ming.

Ming is 48, and says the fact she is older than all the girl­friends she be­friends to steer them away from the er­rant hus­bands is a big ad­van­tage.

The gov­ern­ment’s highly pub­lic anti- cor­rup­tion cam­paign has made hav­ing a kept woman a less pub­lic prac­tice than be­fore, cer­tainly among Com­mu­nist Party cadres, but the new rich con­tinue to have their lovers and the num­ber who are given ex­pen­sive apart­ments as in­cen­tives has been blamed for in­creased prop­erty prices in some cities.

“Since Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s crack­down on cor­rup­tion there are fewer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials with mis­tresses. Mostly our clients now are housewives with hus­bands who are com­pany ex­ec­u­tives or busi­ness­men,” she says.

Male wealth

Pre­dictably, it’s nearly al­ways men who stray, as they con­tinue to have the fi­nan­cial power, and the lan­guage gen­er­ally refers to mis­tresses rather than male lovers. More than 90 per cent of Weiqing’s clients are women and Ming is quite harsh on men who seek help.

“Some men come in for con­sul­ta­tion too, around 10 per cent of our client base. Nor­mally those men are weak . . . the men who come here are cow­ardly and un­able to take re­spon­si­bil­ity, so their wives don’t re­spect them,” she said.

Ming is not with­out sym­pa­thy for the mis­tresses, and in some cases has even helped them find new, pre­sum­ably un­mar­ried, boyfriends.

She tells of one woman who had a thing for older men. The sec­ond daugh­ter in a fam­ily, she was given away by her fam­ily to be raised by grand­par­ents – a fate not un­com­mon in China where daugh­ters are less prized than sons, and sec­ond daugh­ters seen as a li­a­bil­ity.

“She al­ways felt aban­doned, so would date an older man to feel loved by her fa­ther. The things one does when one is young hugely af­fect adult life choices. We can di­ag­nose what the prob­lems ac­tu­ally are and teach them how to solve them,” says Ming.

Cou­ples ther­apy

Tang’s own con­sul­ta­tions lasted four months and she still con­sults with Ming oc­ca­sion­ally when she has some­thing on her mind and needs ad­vice. She is happy with the way things turned out.

“We both went to cou­ples ther­apy and fig­ured out what was the prob­lem. He got to ex­press his feel­ings, com­plain­ing how I don’t care enough about him and al­ways pay too much at­ten­tion to our child. Our re­la­tion­ship had prob­lems long be­fore the af­fair,” she says.

Chi­nese fam­ily plan­ning laws were changed re­cently to al­low peo­ple to have two chil­dren, in­stead of the pre­vi­ous one- child pol­icy, and Tang and her hus­band are plan­ning to have a sec­ond child.

“They did put some pres­sure on the ‘lit­tle third’. I don’t know ex­actly what they did; my fo­cus was mainly to work with my hus­band on re­pair­ing our re­la­tion­ship. But the af­fair is over,” says Tang.

Ming Li, a con­sul­tant at the Weiqing mistress hunters agency, com­forts one of her clients

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