Keeping a mistress is a normal part of life for successful Chinese businessmen and government officials, and in some ways they have become more visible in recent years, playing roles in corruption scandals and even, sometimes, turning in their lovers.Personally, while I wouldn't minimize the number of mistresses rich officials and businessmen--and I'd put them in that order, in the few cases they aren't actually the same guy--are keeping, I question just how big a problem this is compared to the number of empty apartments have been built. It makes a eye-catching story: "Oh, those corrupt Chinese officials!" but in fact the ideal places for officials* to stash mistresses is someplace convenient to work or home.
They and their big-spending partners may also be contributing to ever-increasing real estate prices in some of China’s biggest cities. That’s because these women, often from rural areas, are regularly kept in apartments that their lovers buy for them in urban centers, near his work or home. The practice has created entire neighborhoods of apartments in big Chinese cities filled with women who would otherwise be living at home with their families, or perhaps sharing a rental.
Damn few of those places convenient to work or home are out where the ghost cities are. Those empty apartment complexes are empty because of location. Also, no mistress is going to put up with being stuck somewhere out in the sticks: the traffic to get to and from those neighborhoods is absurd. The official would never get to see his mistress and she'd walk out because she couldn't ever get in to town. (The public transit out there isn't ideal either, not that either he nor she would ever be caught dead riding a bus or metro.)
Aside from that, I'd actually claim that this is better than having the buildings empty. At least there's someone living in an apartment, spending money and supporting local services.
No, the real driver behind all this development is that local governments derive their income from land-use fees from developers. The more development, the more land-use fees.
Also, I'm not using the photo Quartz used for this story. The woman pictured is a balloon vendor. (Photo 9 of 10 in a USA Today gallery from February 13, 2012: http://mediagallery.usatoday.com/S183321, by Alexander F. Yuan of the AP, captioned "A balloon vendor sells Valentine's Day balloons in Beijing.")
*In case you're wondering, the majority of officials in China are male, and an even greater majority of those male officials present as straight. Traditional gender roles which reinforce misogyny and homophobia see to that. So yes, it's mistresses.