I never expected I’d find an online magazine that consistently holds my interest every day without fail, but Aeon Magazine has done that. This morning, I read today’s article in bed, as usual. A piece on the mistresses of powerful men in China.
Unlike most of Aeon’s articles, this one’s a quick read. It doesn’t back itself up with much research, relying on a handful of interviews with “mistresses,” and briefly skims the surface on the current socioeconomic and gender conditions that contribute to the increasingly publicized cases of ernai.
I’m a sucker for slice of life stories, especially when they try to help foreigners (including myself here) understand China. But aside from this, I didn’t feel like I learned anything from this article. There was barely anything about Chinese history or government or culture that added depth to the conversation. The author could’ve been talking about any country when he explains the roles of these women, the power/wealth imbalance, and their lifestyles.
And as for the lighthearted tone he takes at the end, while implying that this topic is losing its taboo and becoming prevalent among young women, every personal experience I’ve had proves otherwise. The Confucian teachings of honor and modesty and fidelity run deep in Chinese culture, and it is not ok to wave your ernai status around. As the article implies, slut shaming is huge. These aren’t geisha. And I didn’t appreciate the implication that these mistresses seem to be taking over major cities in droves, airing their dirty laundry, or that having mistresses is suddenly a novel trend.
So since it was barely informative about Chinese culture, the male/female dynamics in this article stood out to me most. They were the parts I couldn’t shake all day. The things that I think all women experience to some degree on a regular basis.
– First, the article is written by a man. An upstanding man who’s probably more familiar with China than me, but still. With so many sex work related documentaries and articles created by men, it’s hard not to see it as another form of exploitation of these women.
– “A study by the Crisis Management Centre at Renmin University in Beijing, published this January, showed that 95 per cent of corrupt officials had illicit affairs, usually paid for, and 60 per cent of them had kept a mistress.” I hate vague stats like this. What time period are we talking about? Who’s considered a “corrupt official”? How do you conduct such a study?
– “An enormous amount of off-book money sloshes around Chinese business and officialdom, and some of it runs into handbags.” The article constantly focuses on the material items these girls receive. The author makes no attempt at distinguishing them from one another, and their sole interest and gain seems to be in looking stylish. It just shows that he didn’t or couldn’t get to know them past the point of their physical appearance.
– “Shanshan got bored and decided to improve her scant English by finding a ‘language-exchange partner’ online, which is how she and I became friends this spring.” Ha! Ha.
– “In their private pictures, the girls look all of 14, while the men play alongside them in childish games or make faces at the camera.” I spend a lot of time thinking about how much better it’d be if each of these men went home and hung out with their actual kids.
– “it’s true that Chinese culture has rarely paid even lip service to ideas of male fidelity.” No, they’ve paid more lip service than any other culture I know.
– “True, they live off dirty money: the cash conjured up by their lovers is frequently drained from the public treasury, or extorted in bribes from others. But so do hotels, luxury goods stores, estate agents, and the millions of others in China and the West happy to profit from the consumption habits of China’s elite.” We’re talking about selling a body versus selling a house, not about where the money’s from. Did this guy forget his thesis?
Am I sensitive to the topic, or were these huge weaknesses of this article?