'Bed-Sharing Maids' Cause Controversy in China

By Han Qing, Radio Free Asia
November 29, 2006 Updated: November 29, 2006

House keeping is a normal profession, but the phenomenon of “bed-sharing maids” has appeared in China for housemaids who aim to increase their income, according to Chinese media. “Bed-sharing maids” are housekeepers and other house helpers who offer sexual service for male employers, especially older employers, in addition to their housework. This exposition has caused major controversy and concern in Chinese public opinion.

According to China Women , housemaids today are no longer plain maids, but are ranked into different levels. Housemaids who only do house chores earn a salary between 400 to 500 yuan (US$ 50 to $63) per month. Those who live with the male employer make at least 1200 yuan ($ 150) per month, and those who sleep with old male employers can earn more than 2000 yuan ($ 250) per month.

A staff from a housemaid company revealed that most of the housemaids in his area are remote rural locals who are generally over 35 years old. Anyone can hire this type of special housemaid as long as their payment is high enough. Ma Xiaoming, an ex-reporter at Shaanxi Province TV Station, said that according to his understanding, “bed-sharing maids” service more than just single elderly men.

Ma said, “Actually, [the “bed-sharing maids”] are just housemaid who offers improper service beyond their regular work. Some men between 30 to 50 years old have also engaged in illegitimate sexual relationship with the maids even though they are married. Some family's elder child has even fooled around with the housemaid. Many families have such scandals revealed.” Ma criticized that the “bed-sharing maids” indicate that morality has disappeared in the contemporary Chinese society. He claimed, “Some wealthy people believe they can do as they please without moral constrain because they have money. As for maids, some will submit or willingly engage as long as they can make money. All of these factors facilitate the occurrence of 'bed-sharing maids.'”

Ma also indicated that some of the old men have divorced their wife due to their sexual relationship with their housemaids. He pointed out, “One of my father's 80-plus-year-old comrade-in-arms married a 21-year-old housemaid. Such things are common both publicly and underground.”    Deng Xiaogang, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston analyzed that in a sense, the nature of having a “bed-sharing maid” is a sexual partnership. Deng explained, “It is an issue of morality, as this is a disguised form of prostitution. The prostitute only offers a transient sexual service while the 'bed-sharing maid' sells both her labor and body to the employer. I think that it reveals the unfairness of rights in the society. The rich people can buy anything. From the perspective of morality, this is not appropriate.”

Ma Xiaoming pointed out that because public moral condemnation and the legal investigations are ineffective, they render the “bed-sharing maid” to be an open secret in China.

A report by Nanjing Morning Post discussed this issue from the perspective of older people's marriage. The report stated that many elderly fear to confront the issue of remarriage with their children after their spouse passes away. At the same time, distributing individual property is another problem. In order to avoid the troubles of a second marriage, the “bed-sharing maid” phenomenon arises in this contemporary period. Yan Ruyu, an attorney in Beijing, said that some lonely, elderly single men seek a sexual relationship with their housemaid because they feel helpless. Yan also pointed out that the government should propose some solutions to solve the problem.

Deng Xiaogang said that the government and the society should open more channels to enrich the spiritual life of the elderly, which could make them more comfortable and pleasant. In doing so, the “bed-sharing maid” phenomenon will be restrained to a certain extent.