Extramarital Affairs in China: The Key to a Modern Marriage?

Extramarital Affairs in China: The Key to a Modern Marriage?
Aug 24, 2016 Translated by eChinacities.com

Editor’s note: The idea of extramarital affairs in China is an often accepted but seldom discussed topic of conversation:  the culture of having a ‘xiaosan’ or mistress is very much a part of mass consciousness. In this translated article, one Chinese journalist begins to compare the past and the present, and see how extramarital affairs in China have evolved into their modern form.

In the past, extramarital affairs have come at a certain price for men. Whether it be an apartment in the city, gifts or just some kind of remuneration for confidentiality.  However, today the percentage of these kinds of relationships actually involving some kind of payment stands at around 16, with more than half of men saying they are unwilling to pay at all.

In the recent past, having a mistress, or ‘xiaosan’ as they’re called in Chinese, has been a popular trend among men who take part in affairs outside of their marriage. However, today, many of the women who get involved with married men are actually married themselves. Between 2000 and 2010 the proportion of married women who have had extramarital sex jumped from 9% to 21.5%. Thus the idea of the mistress being the ‘second wife’ is dissipating as there are now more actors in play. But why are people going out and looking for a little treat on the side? Is it the pursuit of love or just mindless sex?

Source: Sunset Sailor

The typical chinese extramarital affair: it’s about feelings, not money

In 2003, Cellphone, a film that touched on the topic of extramarital affairs, was a box office hit. Fan Bingbing played the role of a mistress and was called the man’s “lover.” Six years later, a summer TV series Woju, on the same topic, used the term “little three,” or “xiaosan,” in order to describe the mistress.

It is worth noting that when Cellphone was released, audiences were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the character of the wife. When Woju and other similar titles were later released, the audiences, especially young people, were able to understand the idea of a “little three”: some were even envious of the character’s role. Public opinion had quietly changed. According to a survey done by researcher Pan Suiming, 11 percent of female respondents reported that they sympathized with the mistress.  

Fang Gang, another scholar, believes that the words “mistress” and “lover” have gradually become filthy words. Although the term “xiaosan” still has derogatory meaning, it has also taken on a teasing or gossipy tone.

At the same time, society was forced to assess the idea of extramarital affairs because of a related event that went viral online. In 2007, a woman committed suicide in Beijing and left a suicide note filled with anger and resentment towards her husband and his mistress. In response to this event, a large crusade against extramarital sex went viral on the Internet.

But, in reality, many cities still have longstanding “mistress villages” or “mistress streets” that have stayed in business. The mainland China luxury industry is largely driven by the mistress class. The terms “second wife” and “anti-corruption” have also been aligned with each other in new political vocabulary. Over the past few years, numerous officials from Fan Yue to Liu Zhijun to Liu Tienan have been reported on or been fired because of an exposed relationship with a mistress. 

China’s one-night-stand culture is also distinct?

In Pan Suiming’s view, when Chinese people have extramarital affairs they are more than often long term “extramarital relationships,” usually not a “one-night stand” and not related to the sex industry or sex trade. Fang Gang’s observations confirmed Pan Suiming’s hypothesis. He designed an in-depth survey for himself and 27 others who have had 10 or more sexual partners and then discussed the results with them. According to the participants, even if they often change sexual partners, they do not completely separate the ideas of sex and love. In this way they are “still longing for it but still are able to have romantic love.” Although this notion is based on the individual responses of respondents, the concept is altogether very traditional. “These ideas are not revolutionary,” concluded Fang Gang.

China’s “one-night stand” culture is also distinct, and different than that of foreign countries. Zhang Nan, a researcher, found that 40 percent of men and more than half of women already knew their partner before they had the one-night-stand and that often what seemed like a one-night-stand ends up being a long term relationship.  

Interestingly, the survey results show that men and women who have had extramarital sex enjoy a richer and higher quality sex life within their marriage. “Every experience has taught me something new and exciting that I can use within my relationship,” said one participant.

Half of participants say they can balance their life

Chinese people are increasingly better at dealing with this kind of complex relationship. Pan Suiming found that in a recent survey, 45.4 percent of respondents said they are able to balance a life with a spouse and a lover. 20 percent of married couples have had one party engage in an extramarital affair, and yet the marriages did not end in divorce.

The participants that Fang Gang interviewed said that seeing someone else behind their partner’s back would not affect their personal lives. They said that they would not give up an extramarital relationship because of fear that their spouse would find out about it but rather would take more measures to carefully cover the affair. They also said that they would not want to destroy their marriage because of an extramarital romantic pursuit: a husband and wife can have affairs but still live together in peace. A male participant said, “I have maintained a relationship with multiple partners online. Everyone is consenting and the relationships are confidential. My wife now also has an online sexual partner, and I do not object to it.”

Pan Suiming lamented over China’s hypocrisy regarding monogamy. These situations lead to the questioning of the traditional system of two people as lifelong partners. Why don’t these couples get a divorce? The problem is not with legal formalities but with other concerns including property division issues, custody battles and general trauma.

In developed countries, more and more people have wanted to clear up this problem early. The proportion of divorces and remarriages is increasingly high and more people remarry several times. However, in China, growing old together is still a mandatory ethical criteria and a standard in society.  

Fang Gang concluded that such “conservative forces,” can also come from ourselves as individuals. “Perhaps some people are able to accept things like extramarital affairs but personally, the idea makes me sick.”

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Keywords: second wife Extramarital Affairs in China xiaosan mistress


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The true question is, what's the point of getting married if both parties don't enjoy the company of each other? Though I agree that China is full of sexually unsatisfied women looking for something a little more exotic. I have had my fair share of married women and their husband (who did not do them anymore) trying to kick my ass afterward. Bang your wife dude, otherwise don't complain when she goes to get it somewhere else.

Aug 29, 2016 19:08 Report Abuse



good to know

Aug 26, 2016 18:53 Report Abuse



Cheating would happen less if people got married to the person they want to marry rather than the person they've settled for or were pressured into marrying. I've come across to many women who marry men due to their personality or because they are responsible. While those two things are important. Sexual attraction is also important. Someone you love, respect and admire but are not attracted to is a friend. Not a husband. Contrary to popular belief in China. Marriage is not a "tomb". Passion doesnt die. Not when you meet the right person. However, if your relationship resembles a business arrangment or a roomate agreement. You shouldnt expect the other person to remain faithfull. not in a relationships based on "warm" feelings. To keep someone from cheating takes a relationship with passion and "fire".

Aug 26, 2016 14:56 Report Abuse



I wouldn't mind being a man mistress, you getting paid to get laid, and free gifts, and you get to chose who you bang.

Aug 26, 2016 05:16 Report Abuse



notice there's no article on loving, faithful relationships...

Aug 24, 2016 13:35 Report Abuse



Personally I feel that trust and truth is important in marriage. If wife doesn't enjoy her husband company or vice versa then its better to take divorce rather than lying to husband. One's husband/wife knows the reality, it will worse and whole life the husband/wife might feel that after providing all the comfort in life, she/he was not happy with me and was hanging with someone without his/her knowledge. its a guilty feeling for both wife and husband.Whomever one chooses should make them happy. the marriage relationship is for lifetime so better enjoy rather than cursing.

Aug 24, 2016 11:59 Report Abuse



its becoming the norm, stress, drinking, and one night stands.

Aug 24, 2016 09:50 Report Abuse



The is pretty much the reason why liberals will lie for china.

Nov 20, 2014 08:11 Report Abuse




Mar 25, 2014 12:59 Report Abuse



if you cant do right things,atleast make them look alright!

Mar 21, 2014 01:05 Report Abuse



I've got 2 side-chicks, sometimes it's just about the sex.

Mar 11, 2014 12:21 Report Abuse



Wear a chest protector or body armor. Have you heard about what happened to some German guy in Shanghai whom a man suspected was having an affair with his wife? He went in the restaurant and stabbed him a few times. If your "side-chicks" are consenting adults, that is one thing. But if you are running around with married women, beware.

Mar 12, 2014 15:18 Report Abuse



It seems like a mistress is like an iPhone or Mercedes; a status symbol.

Mar 09, 2014 20:01 Report Abuse



What I have noticed is that some Chinese people are encouraged to get married when they are young and miss out on life, then are trapped in relationships that sometimes they don't want to be in. The concern is not for the love in a relationship, but to make something that appears to be a family and home...the shortcut way and this supposed to encourage love? I don't think so.

Mar 07, 2014 23:38 Report Abuse



Keeping kids in school all day, same for college, and then locking them in marriage and responsibility as soon as possible. Sounds like the government keeping people to busy and self absorbed to complain about their government. Actually a very nuanced plan when you think about it carefully.

Sep 15, 2016 07:25 Report Abuse



Simply f*cked up. Truly sad.

Mar 07, 2014 23:23 Report Abuse



it is nice, how 2 words as Mistress and mattress match each other, isn't ? For us, it is just a meat with hole for random satisfucktion, but here, its a status booster ...

Mar 07, 2014 08:24 Report Abuse



This is pretty much to be expected. People have tremendous pressure to get married, regardless of if they are ready or want to get married. Dating around is discouraged, meaning that the pressure is to marry the first person they have a semi-serious relationship with. That's pretty much going to guarantee plenty of marriages where the husband and wife finds out too late that they really aren't compatible for each other. In Western countries, people date first, maybe cohabit, and spend a long time getting to know each other, before committing to a marriage. In that time, if they find that they don't want to spend the rest of their lives together, they can break up and move on. In China, they're already married before finding that out.

Mar 06, 2014 08:56 Report Abuse



Well,she had the cheek to say that she wasn't wrong because her friends were doing it! If every woman here thinks as she does I wonder why there are so many "leftover" women? So my guess is that these are younger generations who are bored to death of their lives here. So much time, so little to do.

Mar 06, 2014 00:47 Report Abuse



They always say 'but everyone does it' or 'but <someone> does <another objectionable thing>' so they are justified.

Mar 06, 2014 19:34 Report Abuse



Most of the women I knew or had relationships with had someone else other than their partner. They would do all sorts of things to cover it up. The most used reason is going back to their "old home"(老家), but actually they are with their lovers. I personally found out one with her hand in the cookie jar. Of course, that ended the relationship. I still can't figure out why she did it. The other guy wasn't some rich person so it wasn't about money. Finally it dawned on me, it was about the excitement of doing something wrong and not getting caught. I said it before and I will say it again, in this country, do what you want, just don't get caught.

Mar 06, 2014 00:22 Report Abuse



"Do bad things, but make them LOOK GOOD!"

Mar 06, 2014 00:31 Report Abuse