Mainland Mistresses, Hong Kong Children

10 Mar

When Hong Kong’s sovereignty passed to Chinese hands in 1997 it was accompanied by Article 24(3) of the Basic Law (Hong Kong SAR’s constitution) stating that ‘persons of Chinese nationality born outside of Hong Kong of Hong Kong permanent residents would be counted as Hong Kong permanent residents’. This was intended to coax back skilled workers who emigrated to foreign countries before the handover and thus benefit Hong Kong’s economy. However, the article also granted legitimate residency to a less desirable group of people: the children of mainland Chinese ‘concubines’ to Hong Kong businessmen.

The term ‘concubine’ is somewhat vague and archaic. The Cantonese term is ‘baau yih naai’ (or Mandarin er nai, 二奶) which translates as baau, keep (owning a set of services through monetary payment) and yih naai or er nai as second wife. Whilst the practice is not widespread, it is prevalent enough in Southern China to influence the creation of ‘concubine villages’ where many local women are bought apartments by their male Hong Kong benefactors. The practice is partially cultural; some Hong Kong men believed the act of supporting a ‘mainland wife’ was indicative of his superior economic status. Whether casual or formal, short or long-term, these relationships propagated children born of mainland Chinese mothers and Hong Kong nationals. When Hong Kong SAR returned to Chinese hands and Article 24(3) was put in place, these women saw an opportunity to migrate and start a new life within the SAR.

These children and their parents were regarded with animosity by Hong Kong citizens who saw them as a drain on social welfare and detrimental to the SAR’s economy. They were also seen as a threat to social harmony; violence and disunity was seen as a possible outcome of mainland wives meeting with the legal wives of their benefactors. Various NGOs and communities of ‘elites’ (academics, officials etc) spoke out against the inclusion of these children under the Basic Law. The government itself took fast action to prevent emigration to Hong Kong by these children and their mothers after the handover. Their existence was seen as a threat and a problem.

The practice of keeping a ‘second wife’ has been recognised as not just detrimental to Hong Kong but also to China. The practice is not dissimilar to prostitution: money and monetary support is provided to a woman in exchange for willing sexual relations. However, a steadfast solution has yet to be found in order to discourage such couplings. One solution would be to make the practice of taking a ‘second wife’ illegal on the mainland, but this has several implications. Firstly, such a law would increase state intrusion into private affairs. Secondly, laws on the mainland and in Hong Kong SAR are different from one another. The law would have to be synonymous in both the mainland and in the SAR. Thirdly, there is skepticism as to whether making such relationships illegal will truly eradicate them. Another solution is to take a different approach and sever the problem at it’s root. Why do these women willingly enter these arrangements? Many have little schooling and few skills. As a result of their lack of employability they turn to other modes of income. It has been speculated that in tandem with new laws, social reform to better educate and train women from poor circumstances and backgrounds would, in time, reduce the practice of ‘second wives’ and thus improve China-Hong Kong relations.

Lee, E., (2003) Gender and Change in Hong Kong : Globalization, Postcolonialism and Chinese Patriarchy, Vancouver: UBC Press.


2 Responses to “Mainland Mistresses, Hong Kong Children”

  1. kmp1g13 March 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    The practice of second wives in China and Hong Kong emphasises the differences in morals with the western world, which shows the different social values that hinders China’s development.

    • Laura Barnes March 10, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

      I don’t think I agree with that. The keeping of mistresses and extra-marital lovers is a practice which is deeply ingrained into our own culture. From what I have read in my sources, the legal wives of adulterers react much in the same way a ‘Western’ wife would; the practice of keeping ‘second wives’ on the mainland is received with much the same repulsion as it would be in the West despite our differences in culture.
      I’m not sure how to read your statement as it can be taken in different ways. If you mean to say that the West somehow has a superior moral foundation which has expedited our development then I must disagree for the reason above. I think another reading of your statement would be that it is a clashing of morality which hinders development – a concept which would be interesting to look into. Hong Kong is separate from China in that it has a long history of British rule. The chapter on second wives in Lee’s book also talks about the creation of ‘Hongkongness’ and aspects of nation-building during the nineteen eighties and nineties. To a certain extent I think she may agree with this interpretation of the statement insomuch that Hong Kong was striving to create a separate identity from the mainland Chinese. She talks about how, in creating this identity, the children of ‘second wives’ who were granted citizenship during the handover were treated almost like criminals who wanted to move to Hong Kong and leech off of the welfare system.
      Regardless, I don’t think that morality is hindering development. If we consider that ‘second wives’ are essentially sex workers then it might be possible to draw a conclusion with Japan’s somewhat unique culture of hostess bars. Similarly to these ‘second wives’, hostesses are visited by their patrons and deliver entertainment in the form of conversation, beauty and serve as a drinking partner. They are paid for their time and can expect gifts of material goods from their customers. In some shadier enterprises, the girls’ services may also venture into prostitution. This culture is so widespread across Japan and such a prevalent norm that it has also been opened to women (host bars which employ men instead) and features in popular children’s comics (such as Ouran Koukou Host Club, a bestseller aimed at teenage girls). The practice is much the same as taking a ‘second wife’: a man may travel for work and stop off at a hostess bar before he leaves. If he is fond of a particular girl he might present her with gifts to curry her favour and he may, in some cases, start a sexual relationship with her. Visiting these kinds of establishments as a married man is frowned upon and not considered a ‘neutral’ or ‘good’ thing to do. Yet despite these practices Japan is a highly developed country with a very successful economy and functioning welfare system. If China is hindered by such practices then surely Japan would be as well.

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