By Maureen Koh
SHE has made it her life's mission to bring down men who cheat on their wives. But China-based private investigator Zhang Yufen, who takes on such jobs for free, insists that she is no man-hater.
In a phone interview with The New Paper on Sunday, she said: "If anything, I should hate women - those who ruin the lives of others by seducing the men and breaking up families."
Madam Zhang, 55, is somewhat of a mythical figure among spurned wives in her country - her clients call her "mistress killer".
When asked about the nickname, she laughed, then said: "Actually, I didn't like being called that but, well, the name grows on me."
With her help, at least 11 men having affairs with mistresses have been sued and were punished for violating marriage laws. More than 100 families are still together because she holds recordings and video-tapes which could ruin the husband's career if made public.
This month, she is opening a refuge centre in Beijing for women who have suffered because of their straying husbands.
She said: "Many of them find it hard to stand up and lead an independent life after their husbands leave them, so they are even willing to suffer in silence.
"But that's really wrong and we aim to help them overcome the odds to start life anew.
"It's simple. If I can do it, why can't they?"
Madam Zhang, who is from Xi'an in northwest China, said it was her own experience of losing her husband of 16 years to another woman that led to the set-up of the agency. Before she turned private investigator, she was working in a factory while studying traditional Chinese medicine.
Her husband eventually disappeared with the woman, taking with him the family's savings. What later irked Madam Zhang more was that it took her another 10 years before she was granted a divorce.
She said: "I spent years tracking down my husband but each time we went to court, I was told I had insufficient evidence that he had committed adultery."
As a result, she found new meaning in life.
She said: "I was furious that the scoundrels - the men who cheat on their wives - were all getting off lightly."
"I'm a strong woman and yet it took me this long to recover. What about the helpless ones who find themselves abandoned, have no one to turn to and are left saddled with the child?"
As she is a qualified traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, Madam Zhang is grateful that she did not have financial problems after her divorce. She earns her keep through her consultation services and offering massages. Occasionally, she does embroidery to sell too.
Determined to set things right, she first registered her agency as Female Detection Centre in 2003, before it renaming it Fire Phoenix two years later. Together with 10 women who had suffered the same fate, they ran the centre until the licence was revoked in 2005 after she ran up personal debts of 80,000 yuan (S$15,440).
She said: "We had used our own money to pay for tracking equipment like recorders and cameras, and costumes for disguises and expenses.
"But we were not charging a fee, so it was inevitable."
Still, she refused to give up hope despite the fact that nine of her 10 partners have died "from sickness like cancer to old age".
She said: "I'm inspired by the last words of the ninth woman who died in 2006. Her daughter told me, 'My mother wanted me to tell you to not forget to seek redress for me'.
"So, how can I give up?"