Sep 19, 2010
Mistresses in business are back
Perks go up as sugar daddies return with recovering economy
Beijing: As China's economy roars back from the global economic crisis, Chinese mistresses are back in business again.
After suffering a dry spell when sugar daddies had to cut back, mistresses like Ms M are getting their perks back.
Last year, the Shanghainese, who is in her 30s, suffered an 80 per cent cut in her pay when her 'boss' went on an austerity drive.
But now, Ms M is getting it all reinstated - first the lingerie, then the designer bags, along with her 15,000 yuan (S$3,000) monthly allowance.
'It's good times again. I think market rates could rise back to pre-crisis levels soon,' she told The Sunday Times, on condition of anonymity.
As Ms M puts it, the mistress industry has had a V-shaped recovery: 'Just got VS (Victoria's Secret), new LV (Louis Vuitton) is on the way.'
China's mistresses, who are better known as er nai, which literally means 'second breast', are not the only ones benefiting. Their comeback is also stimulating the consumption of luxury goods, as well as secondary industries that serve their special needs, from property agents and beauticians to middlemen and legal consultants who form the 'er nai economy'.
So lucrative is the er nai business that the booming demand for nubile young college students has sparked a spate of on-campus recruitment.
Posters have boasted annual starting salaries of as much as 170,000 yuan for a student from the prestigious Shanghai Theatre Academy, to just 20,000 yuan for someone from a technical college.
This is 'at least a 30 per cent jump' in salary offers from a year ago, said one so-called 'er nai middleman', who identified himself as Mr Guo in an online advertisement which gave his mobile phone number.
'Half of my clients are from other provinces,' he told The Sunday Times over the phone, but did not reveal where he was based. He then hung up, saying: 'I'm too busy to talk.'
Some procurement agents, who include fellow college students, even run 'package deals' for philandering husbands, taking in turn - as it is rumoured - commissions of up to 15 per cent of the mistresses' pay.
For this, they provide a one-stop service for sugar daddies: getting the girl, setting up the love nest and arranging for the luxury car to pick her up from school.
Last month, two universities in southern China made the headlines when they threatened to expel students caught moonlighting as mistresses.
Moral issues aside, mistresses like Ms M no doubt make a significant contribution to China's economy.
According to a 2008 estimate by Hurun magazine, which publishes the annual China Rich List, er nai account for one-third of the country's consumption of luxury products.
'Er nai are a very powerful consumer segment who contribute greatly to the local economy,' observed social affairs commentator and blogger Wang Jinghui.
Stroll through Shin Kong Mall, one of Beijing's luxury megastores said to be frequented by er nai shopping brigades, and you may come across beauties dressed to the nines, chalking up massive bills on their credit cards.
'Of course, there's no way to tell who's a rich man's daughter or his mistress,' said a cashier. 'But they are all shopaholics who love Miu Miu cosmetics, Elizabeth Arden anti-ageing creams and LV bags.'
Even the car industry benefits. Websites like chetx.com help mistresses make informed choices, recommending 'er nai-appropriate cars' like the compact Mini Cooper and the flashier BMW 3 Series.
Still, for every mistress who squanders her money on fine dining at the Ritz Carlton, there is another who sends money home to pay for her parents' tractor and her brother's schooling.
Some have also saved up to set up businesses in case they are forced into early retirement.
A Shanghai taxi driver, who gave his name only as Mr Pan, recalled how a young girl from his wife's village in Jiangsu province had stunned fellow villagers when she returned after disappearing for five years to open a mobile phone shop and a jewellery shop.
'She also built a 10-bedroom house to appease her parents for having a child without getting married,' he said.
The success of the er nai economy has also spread from first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou - long known as 'er nai heaven' for their large pools of rich officials and businessmen - to second-tier cities like Chongqing and Xiamen, where the consumption of luxury goods is gaining popularity.
Its recovery has, in turn, revived popular 'er nai villages' such as Shenzhen's Futian Shangsha neighbourhood and Dongguan's Zhangmutou zone, which are said to be frequented by businessmen from Hong Kong and Singapore.
These areas had languished in late 2008 when scores of mistresses were forced to move out, but they are filling up again, as some housing agents tailor their search to the needs of sugar daddies.
One enterprising housing agent in Beijing posted online ads for 'luxury one-bedroom er nai apartments with ceiling mirrors'.
Not surprisingly, the er nai economy is poised to grow in line with national economic targets in the coming years, said blogger Mr Wang.
'China's economy may grow at 8 per cent a year, which is the government's target,' he said. 'So probably, the er nai economy will grow faster than that.'
'It's good times again. I think market rates could rise back to pre-crisis levels soon.'
Ms M, a mistress living in Shanghai
'Er nai are a very powerful consumer segment who contribute greatly to the local economy.'
Social affairs commentator and blogger Wang Jinghui