James has got another stemwinder up at Aeon: and this time he's neck-deep in mistresses. The whole atmosphere is oddly reminiscent of belle-epoque Paris as described by the brothers Goncourt.
Until recent crackdowns forced greater discretion, Chinese official life had two social circles. As the mobster Henry Hill puts it in the filmGoodfellas (a key reference point for Chinese provincial officialdom): ‘Saturday night was for wives, but Friday night at the Copa was always for the girlfriends.’
At dinner with Shanshan, Xiaoxue and Lingling — two of Shanshan’s slightly older friends from Sichuan — they all agreed that the social circuit had disappeared of late, and that it had come largely as a relief. ‘It used to be a big part of work,’ said Xiaoxue, who was kept by a businessman back in Sichuan. ‘You had to make yourself look really pretty, and you had to make up to the most important people there, but not so much that the woman they came with would get jealous. But you still had to be…’ she started to flutter her eyelashes and raised her voice an octave: ‘Oh, you’re so clever! Oh, what important work you do! Oh, you’re really 55? You look so strong!’