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China's concubines have struck again. A corrupt senior official in Shaanxi province has been brought down by his 11 mistresses, according to reports in the state media yesterday.|
Pang Jiayu, the former deputy head of the provincial political advisory body, has been sacked and expelled from the Communist party after his former girlfriends exposed him, the People's Daily said.
As at least the fourth cadre to lose his job in the past year as a result of accusations from "second wives", Pang's case has prompted a flurry of reports in the domestic media about the resurgence of China's ancient concubine culture among corrupt officials.
According to one recent survey, 90% of the senior officials convicted of serious corruption in the past five years kept mistresses. In many cases, they are accused of abusing their positions to make enough money to shower their lovers with gifts.
It is hard to separate the salacious stories from political point scoring, but when a victim falls from grace, the accusations in the local media fly thick and fast.
Mr Pang, 63, was the Communist party chief of Baoji city. His position gave him the power to decide the fate of his subordinates and the awarding of local development contracts.
According to the People's Daily, he persuaded many of the most attractive and young wives of his employees to become his mistresses in return for "big money projects" for their husbands.
Local media said Mr Pang earned the nickname "mayor zipper" in Baoji and city officials had a saying among themselves: "No sacrifice [of one's wife], no gain."
In one case, Mr Pang's wife and mistresses worked together on a water-diversion project that collapsed less than a year after the construction was finished, the paper said.
His fate was sealed when several of his mistresses' husbands were sentenced to death for bribery. The wives joined forces to denounce Pang, who would otherwise probably have escaped censure because of his political connections.
With no independent judiciary, no free media and no electoral accountability, China is suffering a plague of corruption. The country's leaders have repeatedly warned that it is one of the biggest threats to the legitimacy of the Communist party.
When cases do come to light, the punishment is swift and often deadly. The party's discipline inspection commission said in July that Mr Pang would be dealt with severely.
"Pang did not expect that he would be brought down by his own 11 mistresses," the People's Daily said in a report on its website. "What awaits Pang Jiayu is severe punishment."
In imperial times, a large number of concubines was a symbol of power. The practice is thought to have been stamped out after the Communists took power in 1949. But in recent years the keeping of mistresses and ernai - second wives - appears to have been making a comeback.
This week, Duan Yihe, former Communist party boss of Jinan city in Shandong province, was executed for blowing up his mistress in collusion with a local police officer. Duan was said to have been driven to murder because his lover constantly asked him for money and would not leave him despite his repeated attempts to break up since 1999.
The highest-ranking official to fall from grace in the past year, Chen Liangyu - the former party chief of Shanghai - is to feel the wrath of China's justice system after accusations of keeping two mistresses and embezzling at least 3.5bn yuan (£230m).
Corruption and concubines go hand in hand, according to a report in the Beijing News this week, which found that 14 of the 16 most senior officials found guilty of gambling, illegal property deals and money laundering also had mistresses.
This has become a target of black humour among the local media, internet community and even Chinese expatriates. According to a widely circulated report on the Rednet website, there are five motives for officials to keep a mistress: using their power to play with women, showing off, addiction to sex, perversion and a desire to have more children.
Additional reporting by Chen Shi
'I do it because I feel desperate and alone'
There are thought to be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of ernai - second wives - in China, but few have spoken out as publicly about their experiences as Azhen. The 24-year-old from Jiangsu province has a blog about her life as a concubine in Shenzhen, a city close to Hong Kong.
For three years, she says, she has been the mistress of a man who is old enough to be her father. "Society calls us ernai. It is not a job that any of us would choose to do when we were children. Some do it for money. Others for love. Many, like me, do it because they have suffered some cruelty and feel desperate and alone," she told the Guardian.
Azhen says she was neglected as a child because her father abandoned her mother while she was still in the womb. In her first job at a factory, she was raped by one of the bosses.
"No woman wants to demean themselves, but there is no social safety net. I have suffered psychological wounds from my experiences. It has changed my views. I don't expect my life to be satisfying any more, it is enough if it is peaceful."
She met her current patron while working as a cleaner in a sauna. Although reluctant to go into details about how much money he gives her and what kind of apartment he pays for, she says her life has improved.
"He comes to see me if he has time. If he is busy, he calls me. As long as he is nice to me, he doesn't need to seduce me with too much money because I am not a material woman."