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Marriage and Divorce in China: A Changing Landscape
Though there is still stigma attached to a broken marriage, changing social mores and socio-economic relationships are prompting a record number of unhappy couples to untie the knot. Divorce -- Chinese-style -- is on the rise. (Woman leaves divorce club which provides counseling & parties - Shanghai)
"Deng Xiaoping's open-door and economic reform policies have made Chinese richer, freer, and more independent-minded," noted Victor Lee, a film producer. "These social changes are reflected in recent movies and television series, which depicted love triangles and other marital problems." While Lee bemoans the breakup of families, he cheers "the economically empowered women dumping their immoral husbands."
Tang Jun, a researcher at the think tank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, attributes the spike to changes in the mindset and behavior of the young generation, who are typically single-child born in the 1980s. "They are better educated than their parents, are more independent economically and have developed a stronger sense of self, which tends to wreck marriages more easily," Tang was quoted as saying.
Fickleness is also blamed for some of the breakups. A Beijing couple in their late 20's, for example, got married merely a few months after they met -- a practice the Chinese call "shan hun," or "blitz marriage." But when she discovered he was still sending text messages to his ex-girlfriend, they divorced in a similar blitzkrieg fashion.
Such impetuous behavior alarms some Chinese officials. Hei Xinwen, a delegate to the National People's Congress, China's legislature, last March proposed a mandatory "cooling off" period to give squabbling couples time to save their marriage. He blamed the high divorce rate on "too simple procedures" to secure divorce.
It is difficult to create a Chinese profile in terms of attitudes towards love and marriage, especially when values are constantly shifting. Modern values give couples new freedom of choosing, demanding and breaking up. While divorce rates are higher among younger urban residents, they are also rising in rural areas and among older couples, supporting the idea that divorce in China isn't only a result of 'importation' of foreign values, but also the result of the reaction between modern values and more traditional Chinese attitudes towards marriage .
In many cultures, marriage is considered a less romantic phase of a couple's relationship compared to earlier dating stages, but it seems that in China this view has been taken several steps further. '结婚是爱情的坟墓' jiéhūn shì àiqíng de fénmù - 'marriage is the grave of love' is a popular expression in China. When talking with people, in a more personal and less amused manner, it is still clear that many unmarried woman fear the day they will get married, as their relationship would soon lose its spark. Married men and women often admit that in terms of romance, dating and marriage are completely different. It seems that even those who adopt a positive attitude towards marriage, don't claim that marriage life is full of love and passion but rather comfort themselves by the idea that love (爱情 àiqíng) becomes 亲情 qīnqíng - A close-intimate feeling, which is, in some levels, a deeper realization of a man-woman bond.
Such views aren't expressed merely by the newer post 80's generation and are commonly heard also by people in their 40's and 50's, suggesting that they are not linked directly to modernization and are also derived from long standing views and norms within the Chinese society. Somehow it seems that new 'imported' romantic values have a strong effect particularly on dating youngsters, while in the marriage phase couples sink into the less romantic 'Chinese' concept of adult love.
In spite of the rise in divorces, marriage remains appealing to many Chinese. A report of the Ministry of Civil Affairs revealed that more than 24 million people tied the knot last year. Officials say many of them were divorcees.
Sources: CNN Beijing; China Daily; NPR News