A friend attended a work-related banquet in China recently. Seated at the same table were several men who were executives of Chinese state-owned enterprises. As bottles of Hennessy Cognac and jet-fuel-like baijiu were opened and quickly consumed, the topic of conversation awkwardly jostled from work to geopolitics to the price of Apple’s latest iPhone. One executive, his face glowing red from the night’s imbibitions, said he needed to buy one because his mistress demanded it. In fact, she was texting him about it as he spoke. He held out his phone’s lit screen as proof, new messages still incoming on his WeChat account.
Pouring out of the man’s mouth were words of complaint, but they were part of the act. The other guests at the table teased him about not being able to rein in his girl; after all, who was she to be nagging him when he was out with friends? This led to a discussion about how they maintained their ernai, sannai, sinai—second wives, third wives, or even fourth wives. They had finally found something they could all talk and laugh about.
It is not just the men in China who are open about their extramarital solicitations. Mei, a girl in her early twenties living in Shenzhen, has no occupation. She lives alone in an upscale two-bedroom apartment, a far cry from her family’s farmhouse in Zhejiang province. As she reached into her white leather Prada handbag, she offhandedly remarked, “This is a gift from him, so I know it’s not fake.” Out came her smartphone, on which she flipped through pictures of her residence. Everything was white as bleach. “Pure,” she teased, “like me.”