Chinese Lothario faces court after flirtatious phone calls betray his life with three spouses and children

A man in eastern Jiangsu province who married three women in three years, fathered a child with each, and arranged for them all to live within a kilometre of each other has been taken to court after his "wives" discovered each other.

The 36-year-old from central Henan province works as a property agent in Kunshan, Jiangsu, and two of the three women were his customers at one time.

Identified by his family name Zhang, the man married the first wife in Kunshan in 2015. He wed the second wife in his hometown in Henan province, and the third in her hometown in Anhui province. The crime went undetected as the civil affairs authorities of these provinces did not share a database, the Jiangsu Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Zhang made tens of thousands of yuan a month when the property business was booming and provided for all his three "families", the report said. Both the second and the third wife met Zhang when they were looking for property.

He arranged for them to live within a one kilometre radius and managed to spend time with each while pretending to travel for work. This way, he managed to juggle three relationships for years, which, he was quoted as saying, left him "tired".

"I liked him because he was a man of his word. He handled his business well, was very caring and took care of me wherever I went," the second wife, identified by her family name Chen, was quoted as saying.

The third wife, "Wang", said the man pursued her with frequent calls and texts.

"After a while, he said he was single and was looking to settle down," Wang said. When asked why he had to be away all the time, Zhang was reported to have said it was to make money so that she and their child could have a better life.

Zhang's world began to crumble in March 2017, when his second wife noticed flirty messages between her husband and another woman. When he told her he would be travelling on business, she followed him and found him driving to a residential area. There, she found the first wife after calling at the home Zhang entered.

On another occasion, Chen noticed Zhang was constantly disconnecting a call while he was with her. She memorised the number and sent messages to it, eventually finding the recipient to be the third wife, pregnant with her husband's child.

The first wife, whose marriage was the only one recognised by law, divorced Zhang. The two other "wives" reported him to police in March last year.

In November, Zhang was charged with polygamy, a criminal offence in China that carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail, and is awaiting trial. The television channel recently located two of his wives and highlighted his case.

On social media, there was anger at the government oversight and envy for Zhang.

"A man can be issued three marriage certificates in the internet age. I really do not know what the civil affairs authorities were doing," one Weibo user said.

"To think he could manage three families when I had a hard time managing one. I envy him!" said another.

There are no publicly available figures on polygamy in China. One county court in southwestern Sichuan province said it was on the rise and involved mostly migrant workers.

Zhang said he was not aware multiple marriages broke the law or he would never have registered his marriage.

"I will live with whoever forgives me and will take me after I serve my time," Zhang was quoted as saying.

This article was first published on South China Morning Post