bao ernai

bao ernai
[Cant. bau yi lai] (‘keeping a second wife’)
Monogamy has been the sole legal form of marriage in China since 1950 and in Hong Kong (HK) since 1971. Monogamy has been widely accepted by women as they believe it to be to their advantage. However, men have been considerably more reluctant to change the habits and prerogatives of thousands of years and rich men in HK routinely keep and exchange mistresses. Ordinary men have more usually been constrained by the lack of financial resources to keep to the bonds of matrimony.
However, since the relocation of HK’s manufacturing base to Guangdong province managers, technicians, supervisors and truck drivers from HK have been using the opportunity to establish yi lai relationships. Young female migrant workers from rural Guangdong and neighbouring provinces are preferred workers in the factories because they are cheap, malleable and easy to train, creating a gender imbalance. Men from HK, while not highly desirable in HK, acquire greater exchange value in Guangdong because their salaries look larger and they can offer lifestyle and financial benefits otherwise unavailable to the young women who are consequently willing to enter into liaisons even without marriage. The phrase yi lai has entered HK slang to describe an easy-pull opening on a can of herbal drink.
The publicity in HK given to yi lai relationships has created a great sense of unease among wives whose husbands work in China. In 1998, a woman killed her two sons and then herself when she discovered her husband had a mistress in China. An HK legislator suggested making adultery a criminal offence, and the Guangdong Women’s Federation lobbied vigorously and successfully to have the definition of bigamy expanded to cover yi lai liaisons.
The phenomenon is also prevalent on the mainland, though the phrase, ‘keeping a second wife’ (bao ernai) can also refer to the less stable practice of booking or keeping a mistress, in which case it is also sometimes associated with the phrase ‘Miss Three Accompanies’ (Sanpeinü), which refers to escorts. In either case, the keeping of mistresses, concubines or second and even third wives (bao sannai) is common, and the high-ranking officials who were prosecuted for corruption—Chen Xitong, Wang Baosen, Hu Changqing or Cheng Kejie—all had at least one.
De Mente, B.L. (1996). NTC’s Dictionary of China’s Cultural Code Words. Lincolnwood: National Textbook Company.
Lang, Graeme and Smart, Josephine (2002). ‘Migration and the “Second Wife” in South China: Toward Cross-Border Polygyny’. International Migration Review 36 (Summer):546–69.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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