China's rejected wives turn to expensive 'mistress dispeller' services to help get their husbands back
After 11 years of marriage, Mrs Chen was heartbroken when she discovered a message on her husband’s mobile phone from another woman, one who called him “honey”.
He admitted the affair, but after she spoke to her parents and considered the future of her two children, the desperate 39-year-old decided divorce was not the answer.
Instead Mrs Chen turned to another option, seeking help from one of scores of companies in China which offer ‘mistress dispelling’ services.
For rates starting in the tens of thousands of euro, these companies deploy a myriad of tactics to persuade women to leave their cheating lovers and are becoming increasingly common amid rising rates of divorce that often leave ex-wives left out in the cold.
Their methods are highly controversial. Some hire attractive men to start relationships with 'mistresses' in a bid to steer them away from their married lovers.
More commonly, the companies will send in undercover female counsellors to build up a friendship with the mistress before subtly encouraging them to end their relationship with the married man.
Complex mistress dispelling – which often involves the counsellors renting rooms near the apartments of the mistress as they build up trust with their ‘target’, discovering their habits, likes and dislikes – can cost up to one million yuan (£114,000).
Mistresses are considered a status symbol and an obligatory accessory by some ambitious men in China.
Meanwhile, divorce rates are soaring, with more than 3.6 million last year, an increase from 2.5 million in 2009 and 1.2 million in 2000, according to official statistics. The costs of separation are often borne disproportionately by women, who rarely receive an equal share of property and finance.
And while some Chinese have become more modern in their views towards separation, deeply conservative family values are still the norm, with women bearing the brunt of the stigma from divorce.
One consequence has been an apparent booming trade in mistress dispellers, although numbers are difficult to independently verify.
Mrs Chen, who is from the south-western city of Chongqing, was advised by her parents that she had no option but to save her marriage, given that her interior designer husband was the sole breadwinner for her and her son and daughter.
She contacted Chongqing Jialijiawai Marriage and Family Service Centre in January, and hired them to provide a 150,000 yuan (£17,000) ‘non-covert’ service.
Agents at the company convinced the mistress – a saleswoman who sold products to Mr Chen’s company – that there was no future in the relationship.
“We asked her that if the man left his wife, would she really want to become a stepmother and be responsible for his two kids?” said Yu Feng, the manager of the company.
The company also advised the husband to break off the affair on the grounds that money was the key motivation for his mistress. They then spoke to Mrs Chen.
“They made me realise I didn’t pay enough attention to my husband and seriously ignored him, especially after our daughter was born,” she said.
Mrs Chen – who was introduced to The Telegraph by Mr Yu and did not want to give her last name - was also advised to change her wardrobe, and the tone she used when speaking to her husband, in a bid to renew his interest.
Eight months on from hiring Mr Yu's services, Mrs Chen says the operation was a success, and her marriage is now back on track.
Mr Yu said his company had dispelled more than 200 mistresses a year since it was set up in 2012. His one million yuan service involves many months of undercover work by his staff.
He denied using male agents to ‘honeytrap’ mistresses, a practice that is thought to be widespread throughout the industry.
Liu Weimin, the head of the National Marriage and Family Counsellors Association in China’s southern Guangdong province, said mistress dispeller companies would never be officially recognised by authorities.
The burgeoning industry currently operates in a legal grey area, though Mr Liu said it was clear some of their methods broke the law.
“They use illegal measures to drive mistresses away, such as dispatching handsome men to seduce them,” the official said.
“It is not legal nor ethical. When you supply services you must clarify your identity. Pretending to be a friends or neighbour to a mistress infringes their privacy.”