A Sociocultural Analysis of Cross-border Mistress-keeping
Topic: A Sociocultural Analysis of Cross-border Mistress-keeping
Time& Date: 16:30-18:00, March 8th, 2019 (Friday)
Venue: 105 Teaching Building B
Speaker: Prof. Tam Siumi [CUHK]
Host: Dr. Han Yuchen [CUHK(SZ)]
Since the open policy, more and more Hong Kong men have been working and doing business in mainland China. Among them, some married Hong Kong men have established extra-marital households on the mainland, creating the so-called "baoernai" (keeping a mistress) phenomenon. As mistress-keeping becomes a regular behavior, it has in effect restored polygamy. Using the lens of cultural anthropology, this study examines how baoernai comes into existence due to cross-border legislative differences, family social norms, and gender ideology. The speaker compares the views of Hong Kong and mainland informants on what constitutes baoernai, and analyses the causes of Hong Kong men’s infidelity and how familial domesticity of women (including wives and mistresses) reproduces the behaviour. The study finds that mainland interviewees were relatively more accepting of the mistress-keeping behaviour, showing that the social environment provides the necessary condition for mistress-keeping. However, it is important to note that it does not sufficiently explain why only some Hong Kong men have chosen to keep a mistress. Social behavior is a result of cultural concepts and in turn affects the latter; and male centered social relations and patriarchy provide a cultural foundation that allows so-called "male needs" to transform into actual behavior. The proliferation of consumerism, unequal distribution of social resources and power, and a lack of institutional support for women, are objective conditions for the mistress and mistress-keeper. As a result, it seems normal for young women to become commodities on the consumer’s market; in addition, women's internalization of family values and a belief that women's life goal is the family, have together co-created a husband-centered family system. Ironically, women's efforts in preserving the family coincides with their contempt for female autonomy. Together these reinforce patriarchy and perpetuates the repression of women's rights, making both the wife and mistress losers.
Prof. Tam Siumi, Associate Professor and Former Chairperson, Department of Anthropology, Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK); Co-chair, Gender Studies Programme, CUHK; Associate Director, Institute of Future Cities, CUHK; Co-Editor, Asian Anthropology.
Areas of Interest: Social transformation and cultural identity, gender and ethnic relations, cross-border mobility and social marginalization, family/marriage and work, qualitative inquiry.