For centuries, Chinese people have greeted one another with a question reflecting a fundamental concern: “chi le ma?” or “have you eaten?”
These days, they might be better to ask a different but equally pressing question: “li le ma?“ – or “have you divorced?”
The divorce rate has been climbing across the country. There were were more than 465,000 divorces in the first three months of the year – over 5,000 a day – which is an increase of 17.1% year-on-year, says the Shanghai Daily.
“Marriage in China has entered a phase of uncertainty,” Chen Yijun, a marriage and family researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the People’s Daily. Less communication between husbands and wives, and an increasing number of extramarital affairs were the main reasons, she said.
Wang Gongquan, 49, co-founder of CDH Investment, knows a thing or two about that. The billionaire caused a stir last month for publicly dumping his wife for a younger woman.
What’s more, Wang announced it with a genuine flourish. To be with his new love Wang Qin, 34, he was willing to give up his entire fortune.
“Relatives, friends and fellow colleagues, I have given up everything and eloped with Wang Qin,” he wrote on his weibo, referring to the founder of Jiangsu Zhongfu Science and Technology Industrial Group. “I cannot face all your expectations and trust, I don‘t know how to explain. I am begging for your forgiveness.”
Wang’s declaration quickly sparked an outpouring of responses. In two days, more than 40,000 comments were left on his blog, and the two lovers’ names became the highest ranked items on Baidu’s search list.
Many netizens slammed Wang for being hugely irresponsible and a disgrace to his family.
“Why did you have to run away? You have such a good life here. You act like a thief!” says Ren Zhiqiang, a friend of Wang’s and president of property developer Huayuan Group.
Others gushed with messages of envy and support. “In this money-obsessed society, it makes me happy to know you can make this choice,” one wrote.
Cynics say Wang’s motives were less lovestruck than he claims. Lu Lei, a well-known business columnist, dismissed Wang’s act as a publicity stunt. “A friend familiar with the investment field told me that the plan to elope was actually a marketing tactic; the fact is that they will open a new private equity company,” Lu posted on his microblog.
“People who believe in true love will be disappointed, but weibo marketers should take heed!”
Li Weidong, lead analyst of ChinaVenture Group, a research and consulting firm, shot down the accusations, saying there was no reason for Wang to go to such an extreme for publicity (WiC tends to agree that it would be an unusual way to pitch for new investors).
Moreover, people who have worked with Wang say he is not a publicity-seeker, although he does have a reputation for taking on social issues (see our earlier profile of him, WiC103).
So why has Wang’s elopement provoked such a wide reaction? Experts say his extremely public display has inspired netizens to examine their own personal values and whether they would rather choose romance over responsibility to family and business. “The great attention given reflects a popular disappointment toward the fact that money can most often manacle love in this society,” Liu Dan, deputy director of the psychology counselling centre at Tsinghua University, told the China Daily.
Keeping Track: Slightly more than a month ago, billionaire venture capitalist Wang Gongquan shocked the country by announcing on Sina Weibo that he was eloping with his mistress. “I am giving up everything and eloping with Wang Qin,”he wrote on May 16.
But to keep the millions of followers up to date with his whereabouts, Wang posted a clip in late May on Youku (China’s YouTube), which shows him standing in front of an expanse of water in dim light as he sings “Ode to Elopement,” a song he said he had written.
Still, it seems like the elopement has been cut short. This week, Wang announced that he has c ome home. “No matter how embarrassing something is, it must be faced. Wang Qin advised me to go back to Beijing to take care of family business,” says Wang. “I am presently at home.”(1 July 2011)
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