March 11, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
Along with growing economic and social opportunities in China is the rise in divorce and philandering. There’s an equal opportunity explanation for both.
A mistress – or a “little third” as she is known in China – now seems de rigueur for men of rising affluence and status. China Daily and the New York Times reported, for example, that 90% of provincial- or ministerial-level officials found guilty of corruption in the past seven years also confessed to having engaged in extra-marital affairs – and some cities have even ordered their officials to stay faithful to their wives.
Young women see a married lover as a way to a better life: cash, a car, and a condo. The stars have aligned for trysts – but wives are finding out, getting mad, and wanting back their fair share of their misspent common assets. Rapid social change and economic gains are making for strange bedfellows in China today, literally.
China is in the process of revising its marriage law in response; and we’ll soon know the soap opera-like details as to whether a wife can sue her husband’s mistress to recover goods, the mistress can sue her lover if he reneges on financial promises, or the wayward husband has any recourse in any of this.
It’s an interesting case history about culture and change in China, but the story also raises larger questions for us all. Why the interplay between materialism and sexual politics? What does it mean? Where have we seen it before? And how in our own countries and cultures do we play out the same dynamics in our bedrooms? In our boardrooms?
Are sexual liberation and exploitation bourgeois sports: predictable activities fueled by affluence and the growing desire to consume – things and people? Do they feed the development of a distorted sense of power, property, and entitlement – or vice versa? Do they warp our shared views of responsibility, professionalism, and an ethic of care?
The case of the “little third” is raising debate across China about the erosion of traditional values with the pursuit of materialism — about the definition of a good life and the costs to a nation and a culture in pursuing unbridled economic prosperity and material comforts at a head-spinning pace.
What’s the good life for you today? What are the costs? Any internal debates about that?