In China, 'mistresses' stripped nude, beaten and publicly shamed

A screen grab from the video, posted to Weibo.
A screen grab from the video, posted to Weibo.


A video of a half-naked woman being roughed up by several other women, in public, has been circulating on Chinese social media since late June. The attackers are said to have accused the woman of being the mistress of one of their husbands. It's not the first time images of this sort have made the rounds in China, where "mistress" stories crop up regularly.

They slap her, kick her, tear off her clothes, pull her hair: in the two-and-a-half minute video – of which FRANCE 24 has chosen to publish only screen grabs – several women can be seen screaming at and attacking another woman. The victim, half-undressed and sobbing, is filmed from behind and hides her face. Some of the attackers film her with their smartphones as spectators look on impassively. Just a single passerby attempts to intervene, but without much conviction. From the writing on the arch that can be seen in the background, the scene appears to have taken place in Bozhou, a city in the eastern province of Anhui.

Screen grabs from the video.

Posted to social media in late June, the video shocked a large number of Internet users, though reactions were mixed. "Why isn't she beating up her husband instead?" wondered one. "With a wife like that, it's not surprising that her husband went off the rails," another user wrote.

It's not the first time images of several women attacking another woman – accused of being the "mistress" of an unfaithful husband – have made the rounds on Chinese social media. A recent video showed a woman seated on the ground while two others tore off her dress and forcibly cut her hair. There too, no one intervened.

Screen grab from another recently posted video, showing a woman forced to have her hair cut.

According to French newspaper Libération, in October 2014 another "mistress" had had her hair pulled and her clothes torn off in the street in Puyang, in Henan province, in the east. A similar scene had taken place two months earlier in Yulin, in the south-eastern province of Guangxi.

Screen capture from a video posted in October 2014, blurred by France 24.

The mistress, a mark of success for the nouveaux riches

In the 1980s, a great number of Chinese grew wealthy as the country opened economically. Beyond luxury cars and sumptuous residences, an extramarital affair with one or several women – preferably young and pretty – became a popular method for men to flaunt their financial success. Many bought clothing, jewellery and apartments for their lovers; this was the era of the appearance of "mistress villages", for instance in Shenzhen, in the Chinese southeast.

Things were similar in Imperial China (which lasted from 221 B.C. until 1911), where rich men often had numerous, more-or-less official mistresses; emperor Tang Gao Zong (from the seventh century), for example, had 3,000 consorts. In 1949, however, Mao decided to ban concubines, deeming them a feudal concept.

Indeed, mistresses seem to remain the object of intense criticism in some quarters. Many Chinese believe them to be symptoms of a "crisis of morals" that Chinese society is said to be experiencing. Cheating on one's spouse is alleged to correlate with corruption: in 2007, China's chief prosecutor suggested that 90 percent of officials convicted on corruption charges also kept mistresses.

The divorce rate continues to rise in China – 80 percent of divorces involve a spouse's infidelity – and a new profession has recently emerged: the mistress discourager, tasked with breaking up extramarital affairs by pushing mistresses to renounce their relationships with married men. In 2011, an institute offering coaching for cheated-on wives opened in Beijing. And, of course, there are countless private detective agencies that track adulterous husbands, a service that, like the others, can be exceptionally expensive.