One day I went with a friend of mine to a nice coffee shop near the campus of National Taiwan University. I don't know how or why, but we began talking about family values. I don't recall the details of that conversation, but one scene I remember vividly as if it had happened yesterday. She smiled at me and said, "We are more responsible."
What she meant, of course, was that Taiwanese people care more about their families than Westerners. I have challenged this view several times, showing that terms like 'love' or 'responsibility' have different meanings in the West and in East Asia. In this and the next posts, I would like to talk about the phenomenon of the "little thirds" (xiaosan, 小三, also called 二奶), which, as I will show, derives from traditional East Asian concepts of family life.
In this post I will tell a few stories of Taiwanese businessmen who took mistresses during their stay in mainland China. In the second post I will show how "cross-strait families" (husband in China and wife in Taiwan) actually reinforce traditional values and social roles. In the third post I will provide ancient examples of concubinage, and in the fourth one I will explain the concept of "feeding", or "nurturing" (養) a mistress, and what this has to do with traditional family structures.
Nightclubs, 'Company Girls', and China's 'Little Taipei'
According to the Washington Post, in 2010 more than a million Taiwanese lived in mainland China, half of them in Shanghai, most of them for work. Stories of Taiwanese men who spend almost the whole year apart from their families in Taiwan are therefore not uncommon. And while men in East Asian countries may keep mistresses and concubines according to their financial possibilities, men who live far from their family and native social environment are often even more tempted to do so.
As Taiwanese businessmen face tougher competition in China, they are also experiencing greater difficulties in keeping a mainland mistress. Since the economy of the mainland has developed rapidly, Taiwanese are no longer as wealthy as they used to be when compared with the local population. A Chinese mistress may demand a monthly allowance of 300,000 NTD (around 10,000 US dollars), which is more than many Taiwanese can afford. Many men can't make a "deal" with potential mistresses if they offer a lower price.