For richer or poorer

Actress causes stir with confessions about ups and downs in her marriage

For richer or poorer

Marriage is for the long haul says Liu Tao

Diamond Love and Marriage is more than just a matchmaking service. In addition to helping China’s wealthy bachelors find a suitable spouse – there’s a fee of more than $15,000 for access to its database of single ladies – the agency also offers a hugely popular training programme for unmarried women on how to be “a good wife”.

According to the New York Times, Diamond Love runs a series of workshops that coach women on the finer points of managing a (wealthy) household, reading their husbands’ moods and (most importantly) preventing husbands from having mistresses.

The demand for such courses is rising, with divorce rates in China growing at a similar pace to the country’s economy.

“Compared to similar institutes in foreign countries, which only teach housekeeping skills such as cooking and flower arrangement, my institute hires psychologists as instructors. We specialise in solving family issues,” Fei Yang, an instructor at Diamond Love, told China News.

And now there’s a TV show to throw into the mix, aptly named The Good Wife. Not to be mistaken for the CBS show starring Julianna Margulies, the new offering from Hunan Satellite TV is pulling in the ratings, becoming one of the most talked-about series in China.

That’s because the lead actress in The Good Wife, Liu Tao, has caused a stir by discussing her own marital arrangements. In the show, Liu plays a wife trying to win back her husband’s affection. But she has also been writing on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-equivalent, about her own marriage and why she has claim to ‘good wife’ status in her home life too.

In a lengthy blog post, the actress revealed that her marriage to wealthy tycoon Wang Ke has been anything but smooth. She tied the knot with Wang in 2008 after dating for only three weeks. The four-day wedding, which cost Rmb40 million ($6.4 million), lasted nearly as long as the whirlwind courtship. Liu then left acting to become a stay-at-home mother, says Morning Express.

But the good times didn’t last long. In her blog, Liu says that her husband’s business fell apart within a year of the marriage, leaving them on the brink of bankruptcy. Soon the couple were down to just two cars, an Audi and a Rolls-Royce (a sure sign of “economic distress,” reckons Southern Entertainment Weekend). Worse still, relatives and friends turned their backs and Wang began to suffer from manic depression. Liu had no choice but to start working again, appearing in several TV roles in 2010.

Liu’s relationship with her husband suffered too. “The difference between the man that relies on a sleeping pill and the man I married was so great that I almost lost hope,” she wrote. “My friends said, is it worth waiting for this man for the rest of your life? Sometimes when I woke up I would see the divorce papers by my bedside, and I wanted to say let’s just forget it. But then I remembered that I chose him, so I can’t abandon him. Even if everyone leaves him, at least he still got me.”

Two years on, Liu’s husband has recovered from depression and Liu seems to think she qualifies for plaudits for hanging around.

“Even today, relatives and friends often say I’m ‘a good wife’. But the truth is, I never strived for perfection. I only hope that both sides respect marriage. My married life has been full of danger and twists and turns that are way beyond my expectation. But it was through these challenges that I have emerged strong and fearless. And this is how you become ‘a good wife’.”

Liu’s declaration went viral on weibo and was reposted more than 340,000 times. Actress Zhao Wei was among those reposting it, saying: “So deeply moved and touched! Support!” (although netizens were swift to point out that Zhao is the wife of a wealthy tycoon, too.)

Liu’s story prompted a wider discussion on the definition of a good wife in Chinese society. Confucian philosophy dictates that a good wife should follow the tradition of “three obediences and four virtues”: she should obey her father before marriage, her husband during marriage, and her sons in widowhood.

Her expected virtues are morality, proper speech, modest manners and diligent work.

But this sense of blind obedience to men couldn’t be further from reality in modern day China, says Nanfang Daily. Instead, male netizens have been joking that the “three obediences” have taken on new meaning: “Don’t be gentle, don’t be considerate and don’t be reasonable”.

The males wags say the four virtues can additionally be summarised as: “Can’t be criticised, can’t be yelled at, can’t be abused, and can’t be messed around.”

Liu’s surge in popularity suggests that the Confucian ideals still have some resonance today. “Even though times have changed, the principles of a good wife haven’t,” the Nanfang Daily suggested. “A good wife is not only one that takes meticulous care of the husband’s daily life but one that stands by him even in adversity and gives him confidence and strength.”

Is Liu really as perfect as some have pronounced? As ever, there are plenty of sceptics ready to pick holes in her story, including the claim that she is embellishing events to promote the TV series.

Liu denies the accusation, saying that she has only talked about her marriage now because the show brought raw memories back to the surface.

Not everyone is convinced. Some even wondered on weibo whether Wang and Liu’s relationship is still in trouble. By telling her side of the story, Liu could be rallying public sympathy in case she needs to file for divorce, the cynics suggested.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.