British newspaper The Independent reported last week that concubines are making a comecuback in China due to the return of capitalism. This is particularly fascinating to me because my great-great-grandmother was a concubine. She was the only “wife” of my great-great-grandfather able to give him a son–my maternal grandmother’s father–which was considered the socially-acceptable reason to take on a concubine in those days (as opposed to just keeping them around for sex).
But as I read the Independent piece, “Chinese Concubines Return Thanks To Increasing Capitalism,” which cited one corrupt government official after another keeping mistresses and sometimes offering those women kickbacks, I began to wonder what the difference was between a concubine and a mistress. Was it only semantics? Or was there some kind of legal difference?
As it turns out, concubinage has always been differentiated from having a mistress because of its legal status. According to the Reference.com encyclopedia:
Concubines have limited rights of support from the man, and their offspring are publicly acknowledged as the man’s children, albeit of lower status than children born by the official wife or wives; these legal rights distinguish a concubine from a mistress.
Since having concubines has been illegal in China since the founding of the Republic in 1912, why are these modern-day Chinese mistresses being called “concubines”? Why is The Independent insisting that China’s bringing back this “feudal institution”?
Oh right. Because we’re talking about China. Exotic, mysterious, fetish-y, weird, sexually perverse China. Land of half-a-billion sideways vaginas. Got it.
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