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Hong Kong Targets Its Two-Family Men
By Kevin Murphy International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, February 7, 1995
As Hong Kong celebrated the Lunar New Year, visiting one's family was among the most important of many ancient rituals.
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But for many local men who keep mistresses in mainland China, the holiday presented a dilemma that went beyond old customs: With which family should they celebrate this new Year of the Pig?
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Such questions are suddenly topical in Hong Kong, where a bid to criminalize cross-border concubinage has spurred lively public debate about mores and the law, and where local women now speak more openly about their husbands' Chinese affairs.
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"Many Hong Kong men still have the same concepts as their great-grandfathers," said Eugenie Leung, a clinical psychologist. She has treated several patients among a growing number of Hong Kong women who are becoming more open about their marital problems.
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"These men think having a wife and a home means having a place to relax, get a good meal, take a shower and have sex," Miss Leung said. "If they're living in two places because of their work they think, 'Why not have two wives?'"
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Although statistics are hard to come by, it appears that thousands of married Hong Kong men now keep concubines or mistresses in China, aided and abetted by new wealth and freedom on both sides of the border.
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The aggrieved wives' admissions of the trend reveal a new twist to an old tradition and a change among Hong Kong middle- and working-class women's expectations, counselors and psychologists said.
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"Women at the grass-roots level are now more aware of basic feminist issues and their own role in life," Miss Leung said. "They're looking for more than just a breadwinner. They want someone with whom to share a life. Hong Kong men are still in the 'good old days.'"
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Marriage counselors and others looking into the phenomenon find that most of the men involved are unwilling to talk about their role with anyone but their peers. But one man who disapproves of the lifestyle has brought the practice into the open, prompting spirited public debate.
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"Some may think this is a crazy idea which will never be put into practice," said Eric Li Ka-cheung, a Hong Kong legislator who wants to make such behavior a criminal offense. "But I am confident some way can be found to deter extramarital affairs through legislation."
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Where once only wealthy men could afford to maintain a second or third unofficial wife and their children, now even working-class men are pursuing such status, or "face," if their jobs take them into China on a regular basis.
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Lower property prices and deeper pools of labor in the boom towns of Guangdong Province have made all sorts of business easier to conduct in China than in crowded, prosperous Hong Kong.
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At the same time, young Chinese women have migrated to the south looking for work in export-oriented factories. Some opt for a less arduous way to survive than working long hours in unsafe sweatshops.
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"For both the Hong Kong men and the Chinese women, when they are in a place where no one knows them or what they are doing, their moral standards loosen," said Paulina Kwok, a social worker with Caritas Family Service in Hong Kong.
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"The Hong Kong men working in China are lonely and under a lot of stress," said Miss Kwok, whose group handled 130 cases involving affairs in China in 1994. "And if they don't have a mistress, their peers will ask questions about them."
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But Mr. Li of the Legislative Council disagrees with the Hong Kong fathers and Chinese mothers of an estimated 240,000 children born out of wedlock that this is acceptable.
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"It is important to note that mainland mistresses pose a new social problem in the territory, with dozens of heartbroken wives seeking help from local social welfare organizations every month," said Mr. Li in an article in the Sunday Morning Post.
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Anyone living with a woman not his wife for two years, who financially supports her or who has a child by her, will be liable for prosecution if Mr. Li's proposed new law is enacted.
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But many people concerned about the practicality of Mr. Li's proposals have denounced them. They cite the incentive such a law might provide for more short-term affairs.
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