Private detective Dai investigates alleged infidelity.
SHANGHAI: Echo couldn’t figure out why your Shanghai businessman routinely came home well after midnight and put a strain on their 10-year marriage – until she checked his phone.
Flirtatious messages from other women revealed a pattern of affairs eased by WeChat, China’s top messaging app.
WeChat and other platforms have helped revolutionize human relationships in China, but are also blamed for putting an increasing strain on Chinese marriages by making it easier to flirt with potential new partners.
Divorce in China is on the rise due to a number of factors, leading an affected government to pass a law in May giving feudal couples a one-month “cooling off” period before separating.
But thanks to technology, “getting to know each other has become more convenient. It is possible that there may be temptation,” said Echo, who refused to give her full name and is now seeing a marriage counselor with her husband.
Extramarital sex is hardly a new phenomenon in China with its thriving sex industry and hostess bars. A 2015 study by a respected Chinese sex researcher found that the situation has worsened in recent years.
The flawed partner problem went viral in April when Chinese celebrity model Zhou Yangqing revealed that her nine-year-old boyfriend, Taiwanese singer Show Lo, had used WeChat and other platforms to dispute with multiple women.
Technology increases the socio-economic burdens on couples, said Zhu Shenyong, a marriage counselor from Shanghai.
These include growing professional and financial pressures, increasing business travel, interference from in-laws, and less willingness on the part of Chinese women to endure a bad marriage.
“(Chinese) society is moving too fast, extremely fast,” he said.
“We have quickly become a relatively affluent society, but material happiness means working more and spending less time building and maintaining marriages.”
– Casual connections –
Many find an exit through technology-based dalliances, said Zhu.
In particular, he cites WeChat’s “People Near Me” feature, which is often used for casual connections.
But even the seemingly innocent use of WeChat, China’s standard communication tool, can lead people astray.
Zhu recalled a recent counseling case where a man and a woman became business contacts through a “friends” group.
“The man said, ‘You are divorced. I want to get a divorce too,'” Zhu said.
“After they discussed the deal and signed a contract, they went for a drink and ended up together.”
WeChat makes it “incredibly easy to find the opposite sex,” said Zhu.
According to government data, annual Chinese marriage registrations rose nearly 14% from 1998 to 2018 to over 10 million. During that period, divorces nearly quadrupled to 4.5 million a year.
Dai Pengjun, a Shanghai private investigator investigating alleged infidelity, says messaging apps are a common thread in cases.
– “More and more affairs” –
The business has picked up speed in recent years and he now has seven employees handling around 10 cases a month nationwide, 40 percent of which involve unfaithful women.
“I’ve thought a lot about why there are more and more matters these days,” said Dai.
“Is it because of a lower morale? I don’t think so. It has a lot to do with human material life and technological development.”
In those cases, “targets” are usually staked, tracked and photographed.
An AFP journalist escorted Dai and his team as they followed a man – whose wife suspected him of having lunch – through Shanghai’s financial district and subway system for several hours. Nothing openly incriminating was observed.
In extreme cases, Dai has found male targets that reconciled not one but two long-term extramarital affairs, including some that produced offspring.
Lack of education is a problem, Zhu said.
“Our sex education starts in elementary school, but there is no love and marriage education,” he said.
Chinese media has speculated that lengthy Covid-19 bans earlier this year could lead to more divorces as crouching couples tire each other out.
Echo experienced the opposite. Shanghai’s closure gave the couple time to work on their marriage. She is hopeful.
“Sometimes I’m even grateful to the other women,” she said.