Rejecting the polygamous sexual double standard of pre-socialist China, the Maoist state sought to prohibit adultery by both sexes. An adulterer might be forced to make a public self-criticism, or be demoted or even dismissed from a work unit. More rarely adulterers were imprisoned for hooliganism or rape. With the ‘opening and reform’ in the early 1980s some voices in the Chinese media began to argue for more tolerance, especially in cases in which the marriage was effectively dead. By the 1990s adultery had come to be seen as a national social problem contributing to rapidly rising divorce rates. According to sociologist Xu Anqi, more than 40 per cent of divorced couples in Shanghai cited adultery by one or both of the partners as a direct cause of their divorce. Chinese surveyed in the 1990s overwhelmingly disapproved of extramarital sex.
However, in various sample surveys, between 10 and 30 per cent of Chinese married men and women said they had engaged in sex outside marriage. Moreover, in some areas of social life extramarital relations were tolerated or even condoned. A flood of novels, films and television serials treated ‘extramarital love’ with considerable sympathy and moral ambiguity. Popular commercial dance halls allowed both married men and women a convenient place to begin affairs. Business entertainment often featured hostesses who were available for further sexual services. A revision of the Marriage Law passed in 2001 (see Marriage Law of the PRC (1 January 1981) and revisions (2001)) explicitly prohibited cohabitation with a third person, attempting to rein in the practice of rich men keeping mistresses as secondary wives (bao ernai).
Farrer, James (2002). Opening Up: Youth Sex Culture and Market Reform in Shanghai. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Zha, Bo and Geng, Wenxiu (1992). ‘Sexuality in Urban China’. The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 28:1–20.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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