Magazine article Newsweek

The Sexes: Gumshoes and 'Mistress-Killers'; Chinese Women Who Want a Divorce-And a Fair Settlement-Are Seeking a Little Help

Magazine article Newsweek

The Sexes: Gumshoes and 'Mistress-Killers'; Chinese Women Who Want a Divorce-And a Fair Settlement-Are Seeking a Little Help

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Ansfield (With Melinda Liu and Grace Liu in Beijing)

Ten days after He Yuxiu hired the Sherlock Holmes agency, the firm called with bittersweet news: investigators had found what she was looking for. Get to the guesthouse as soon as possible, one agent told He. She didn't need to hear the address. The Sichuan housewife and her husband, Wen Youming, were joint owners of a little lodging place in Sichuan's capital, Chengdu. A local TV crew was at the house when He arrived, brought in by Holmes to catch the whole scene on camera. The group kicked down the bedroom door. Inside, He's husband was with a petite young woman Wen called his "business partner." The pair was buck naked. "Today I got you both!" yelled He.

The camera crew's footage turned the sad-eyed matron into a hero for many local women. Late last year it became one of the first videotapes ever accepted as evidence in a Chinese divorce court. A reality law show on Sichuan Television got ahold of the tape and devoted an episode to He's case. "I didn't want to have to catch them," she says of her husband and his mistress. Still, everyone had warned the wronged woman she had no hope of winning a fair division of assets without irrefutable proof of Wen's wrongdoing. The law used to make poverty just about inevitable for a wife who wanted out of her marriage, no matter how monstrously the husband behaved. China's amended Marriage Law of 2001 made it possible to win a decent settlement, but solid evidence is still essential, except in uncontested cases--and those remain rare.

"So women come to us," says Dr. Zhang Changyun. Three years ago he and a former police detective opened the Sherlock Holmes agency in Chengdu. The total number of similar firms across China is estimated at 1,000. They tend to call themselves "investigative consultants" or "evidence collectors": China's laws forbid many activities routinely associated with PI work, and a 1993 police ordinance bans private detectives outright. …

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