An Excess Male is an interesting novel by Maggie Shen King. She posits a Chinese society in which “plural marriage” is the adaptation to the fact that there are more men than women. Except this is not plural marriage quite as Brigham Young might have envisioned.
The book opens with a meeting arranged by a matchmaker. At the table are a 22-year-old woman’s two current husbands, the candidate third husband, and the candidate’s two fathers:
I suddenly understand what it’s like to be Dad, my mother’s second husband and my biological father. But then, he has only one husband who outranks him, while I will have two to mind if I marry into this Advanced family. Dad bestows a fatherly smile upon May-ling. “Our Wei-guo has impeccable health habits. He weight trains three times a week and swims and runs as well. He can bench a hundred kilos. You should see his biceps.”
Our matchmaker is trying to help, but mention of The Worldly Bachelor only serves to remind May-ling and company that there are forty million more single men like me out there to choose from, that it has taken me until my forties to save up enough to enter matchmaking talks at this lowest rung.
After my family saved the requisite two million yuan needed for me to enter matchmaking talks as a third husband, it has taken another eight months to get this nibble of interest,
“They don’t assign nights. May-ling decides who gets bedroom time.” A smile takes over my face. I can already see her choosing me over the two grandpas. “That’s outrageous,” Big Dad says. MaMa kept a strict bedroom schedule, as do most Advanced families. She used to spend every other week with each of my dads, but they eventually talked her into alternating nights. My dads argued that too much closeness was lost over seven days.
What about guys who don’t have enough cash to get married, even as a second or third husband?
I do not say that I’ve grown weary of my weekly ten-minute hygiene session with my State-assigned “Helpmate,” but…
Helpmates receive their pension after fifteen years of service.
“Does he tip you?” “Sometimes.” “How much?” “Twenty-five, usually.” Helpmates receive a salary and are only required to provide missionary or doggy-style sex and lower-body nudity during weekly appointments. Services outside of that are extra, and their fees, payable to the State. Most men are saving toward a dowry, and only the most generous tip.
Parents who are steeped in tradition want to have at least one son. Parents who are hungry for cash want to have daughters:
Hann ignores the dig and asks if Hero has dug up Hann’s marital contract. “May-ling’s parents are entitled to twenty-five percent of the third-round dowry.” Hann curses. When he married, two spouses had been the max, the standard for two decades. The government allowing a third spouse did not seem like a remote possibility, let alone May-ling agreeing to it. “I can try to negotiate for you.” Hann sneers at the absurdity of that. May-ling’s parents are gambling addicts who lived off the fruits of their loins and their mahjongg winnings. While everyone was obsessed with producing a male heir to pass on the family name, they placed their bet on girls. Her parents must have paid staggering fines for defying their one-child limit. May-ling avoids the subject, but no one could have had six daughters in eight years without abortions, illegal sex selection drugs, or semen spinning. Rumor had it that the engagement of the four eldest (all by the age of three) helped finance their household. They had no need of a second husband and his income. The last two girls were allowed to come of age and auctioned off. A double contract to brothers, May-ling’s engagement set records. Hann and Xiong-xin supported the household after that, the parents’ life savings all but depleted.
Divorce discouraged by the government. When one character is considering a divorce, his boss calls him in for a chat:
And listen to this: ‘Divorce leads to the disintegration of society, to the depreciation of Confucian values, to lawlessness and violence. Divorce is an antecedent to crime, and all measures must be employed toward its prevention.’ It says here that I am required by law to refer you to marriage counseling.”
Not everyone is part of this Brave New World…
Like most of the superwealthy, Chu lives an hour outside town with a wife he does not share and more children than he’s allowed to have.
As with a lot of books that imagine an alternative reality, the beginning of the book is stronger than the ending, but I enjoyed An Excess Male.
- The Mandibles: turning sex into money before and after an economic collapse (one of about five posts that I did on this very interesting novel)