If one day your partner tells you they have been seeing someone else and want a divorce, what will you do? Agree to a peaceful breakup or make a scene? Zhang Yufen and her co-conspirators choose a third way: enacting violent revenge on the mistresses of cheating husbands.
Zhang, a native of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, is now in her late 50s. Two years ago, she moved to Beijing and rented a yard she calls "Moon Bay." There she shelters women who have nowhere else to go because their husband has kicked them out in order to move his mistress into the family home.
She said she wants to "chop off the mistresses' head with a sword," like "chopping off Japanese devils' heads with a sword."
Zhang's experiences are linked to the country's increasing divorce rate and the growing prevalence of adultery that followed China's economic boom in the 1990s.
In 2015, more than 3.84 million couples got divorced and in 2014, this figure was 3.64 million, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Alliance against mistresses
Zhang's husband used to be the driver of a senior official at a district tax bureau in Xi'an. After he was moved to the business section, many people tried to bribe him, including offering him sex. He was often taken to karaoke lounges, and often prostitutes were present.
He quickly got a taste for this life, and would often make excuses to stay out late at night to commit adultery.
One day, he came home and told Zhang that he was seeing someone else and wanted a divorce.
This was a huge blow to Zhang. "I curled up on the couch for a week [after my husband's announcement]. When I finally went out, my hair had become gray and people said I looked as if I'd lost more than 10 kilograms," said Zhang.
After a week of thinking, Zhang decided to take her revenge. She then began to track her husband after he left his office. In half a month's time, she managed to find the place where he and his mistress lived.
While she was doing this, an old woman found Zhang, asking her for help as her son-in-law had a mistress. She said that her daughter didn't want to live any more and had attempted suicide several times.
Zhang promised to see her daughter two days later. But when she finally fulfilled her promise, the daughter had already killed herself.
Zhang asked the old lady why she didn't sue her son-in-law. The woman replied that as she had no evidence to prove his affairs, she can't win the case.
These words inspired Zhang, who then made her mind to set up an agency to collect evidence of men's extramarital affairs.
"I told the woman that I would ruthlessly exterminate those men," said Zhang.
She later found nine other friends who had similar experiences when she paid a visit to the local women's federation, and they came together to found the Fire Phoenix Agency in 2003. They charged women for basic expenses and help them to collect evidence their husbands are cheating.
Beating as a cure
The first time Zhang beat a mistress was to help another woman. They ran into her husband's mistress while investigating and Zhang recalled that she slammed into the woman and kicked her lower half while abusing her verbally and stomping on her glasses.
"We beat the woman into the middle of the street, causing a traffic jam. There were lots of people standing there, watching us beat the woman," said Zhang.
"The police officer told me that he 'didn't see what's happening.' When I heard this, I knew it's OK. So I kept beating the mistress," she said.
In the 1990s, police were even more reluctant than they are today to intervene in what they consider to be family matters, and they often turned a blind eye when Zhang and her friends beat mistresses. "I quite miss the past," she admitted.
After her activities were widely reported in the media, governments in many places started to pay attention to this mistress-beating phenomenon, with some attackers even being jailed.
According to Zhang, beating mistresses can help the health of scorned wives. She cited an example that when one woman beat her husband's mistress, she was no longer short of breath.
"Those who don't dare to beat will develop diseases including esophageal cancer, uterine cancer, lung cancer," she claimed. She explained that beating mistresses helps wives vent their anxiety and emotional pain.
In a commentary article published on people.cn, author Zhang Weibin pointed out that it's not a good thing that Zhang Yufen has so much business.
Zhang's busy workload reflects the crisis women face. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, Chinese women's social status and living conditions have greatly improved. But women's liberation isn't only about ending foot-binding. Women achieve real liberation only when they have gained both "economic and spiritual independence," read the article.
Zhang Weibin aruged that many women don't have economic independence and they don't see themselves as being men's equals, so they rely on their husband. He noted that women who beat mistresses are not usually independent and their status needs to be improved through economic and spiritual independence.
Zhang receives more than 100 calls every day on average from women who are seeking her help.
During an interview with Aizhe Radio Station, she instructed one caller to buy surveillance video clips from a hotel where her husband and the mistress had dined.
In the past decade, she has helped investigate thousands of cases and filled up dozens of notebooks with information. One time, when she went to the Beijing Television Station for an interview, dozens of women gathered downstairs to see her.
After the interview, she met with many of the women and wrote advice and guidance for them. In the end, she wrote so much that she could barely lift her elbow but she felt a strong sense of accomplishment.
Tang herself had a miserable marriage. She is a leader at a State-owned company and was the breadwinner of the family.
After she lost all the money that was invested in her husband's restaurant, Tang's husband decided to break up with her, winning their apartment in the divorce proceedings. "I felt the sky of the family has fallen. I could barely eat for a whole week when he left," she said.
In Moon Bay, Tang is strong and relied on by other women. But in her heart, she believes "women are vulnerable."
She even taught her daughter how to "grab a husband's heart" when she was young. According to her theory, you need to play the role of the mother most of the time to take care of the man and sometimes play the role of mistress when you want to make some demands.
Her daughter didn't listen to her. She got married in France and now has three children.
"She doesn't know how to grab a man's heart. For myself, even though I know how to do it, I still failed," said Tang.
She said that she misses the Mao era when people's assigned work groups interfered in family affairs and punished the man if he was found having an extramarital affair.
According to Tang, the law and the police have failed to protect wives. "You need to have evidence in court. But how do you get the evidence? They don't help you to collect it."
With help from Zhang, Tang later got enough evidence to prove her husband's adultery and won back their old apartment at court. But still, she feels unhappy.
"Sometimes when I reflect upon the days we were husband and wife, I feel regret for what I did," she said.
Aizhe Radio Station — Global Times
This article originally appeared on the Global Times website