The Mistress-Industrial Complex

Corruption among Chinese officials at all levels is a longstanding, tenacious problem that the top leadership has so far been unable, or unwilling, to uproot. With a number of recent scandals involving the mistresses of corrupt officials, one academic has a novel idea of how to curb illicit behavior. From Foreign Policy:

So how, exactly, do you crack down on corruption in China?

Li Chengyan, a professor at Peking University’s Research Center for Government Integrity, has an idea: Involve the mistresses. No, seriously. A staunch party loyalist, he is researching the role of kept women, or ernai, as whistleblowers, intentionally or otherwise. “The phenomenon of mistresses is so common in Chinese history, but the scale today is really unprecedented,” says Li, who thinks the problem is caused by loopholes in the discipline system and lack of effective supervision. “If we examine corrupt officials, about 80 to 90 percent of them also have mistresses.”

Li sees a connection between China’s modern concubine culture and its runaway graft: the “emperor psychology” of the unrestrained: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely. When officials have absolute power, they become bold to ignore the law and social norms and do everything they like.” This ultimately hurts the party: “It’s misleading to think that keeping a mistress is not a big problem — that it won’t affect the official’s main work, records, and achievements. Temptation brings temptation.”

But where others see moral hazard, Li also sees a silver lining. “Many corruption investigations begin with information or lawsuits from the mistresses. Why not? They have direct knowledge of the officials’ behavior.” Eleven mistresses of a Shaanxi province official — many of them wives of his subordinates — exposed his dealings in 2007 after their families stopped prospering. The mistress of a former Navy vice-admiral ratted him out in 2006 after he rebuffed demands for continued financial support for her and their secret love child. “She wanted compensation to buy a house and raise the kid as a condition to end the relationship,” says Li. “Changes in relationship status always produce unstable results.”

Read more about corruption and mistresses in China, via CDT.


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