Two days ago, on New Year's Day, my parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with a family dinner at the restaurant in Singapore in which their wedding dinner had been held 50 years earlier. Sharing one's life with another can be hard, especially for five decades and counting. My siblings and I are grateful for our parents' commitment to each other and their perseverance through life's ups and downs.

Where marital relationships are concerned, the dynastic annals of imperial China make for sad reading. The traditional Chinese acceptance of polygamy, where a man could take multiple wives, became amplified in imperial households because of the importance of having a pool of potential heirs to the throne. All dynasties had written provisions for the different ranks and the maximum number of consorts the emperor could have in addition to the empress, his principal wife, but these were not strictly adhered to.

A common appellation used to describe the emperor's family life, "3,000 [women] in the inner palace", underlies the historical fact that there were a few emperors who really did have thousands of consorts. Emperor Xiaozong, of the Ming dynasty (reigned 1487-1505), was an exception; Empress Zhang was his only wife, from when he was a prince to his death. Despite entreaties by his ministers to procure consorts for the sake of producing sons, Xiaozong refused to be unfaithful to his empress.