China sees alarming rise in divorce

Updated: 2011-11-13 07:35

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

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China sees alarming rise in divorce

There are many social indicators to a country's development. Unfortunately, one of those signs seems to be a rising number of broken marriages. In China - now the world's most populous country and its second-strongest economy - Han Bingbin looks at the heartbreak, and searches for the reasons why.

It was Valentine's Day. Wang Xiaobo (a pseudonym) had been in line since early morning to register her marriage. In front of her, couples were carefully threading their way into a little room and filing out from the other side. It made her think: "It's exactly like an assembly line." The process was so quick and simple that many couples came out slightly bewildered and wondering: "Are we married already?" For Wang, her feelings were slightly more complex. This was her second time in the line. The first time was four years ago, in 2007, a year after she graduated from college. Her husband then was seven years older, a man she considered "mature, considerate and good at cooking" and who gave her "a strong sense of security". She had married him after they dated for two years and unlike her classmates who were still playing the field and shopping for the perfect mate, Wang was content with her choice and expected a "stable and happy" life after marriage.

But the rude awakening came sooner than she expected.

It was not the perfect match she thought it was. They spoke less and less to each other until conversations were reduced to curt greetings when they met at home after work.

Wang also found her husband sexually indifferent and, in their 16-month-long marriage, their sex life was practically non-existent. She tried to find out what was wrong, but he dodged the question every time.

She concluded that the love was gone, and it was around this time that she started an affair. Things deteriorated quickly and, one day, she moved out and asked for a divorce. To her surprise, her husband agreed.

With that, Wang became part of the statistics that show an alarming rise in divorce in China. Figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs show that in the first three quarters of 2011, 2.8 million couples registered for divorce, up 12 percent year-on-year.

That translates to more than 10,000 families breaking down every day.

In the last five years, the number of divorces has steadily increased by about 7 percent year-on-year, nationwide. In the first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the rate has reportedly surpassed 30 percent.

Peking University law professor Ma Yinan says the rising trend began as early as the late 1970s, the result of strained marriages that came from differing political perspectives during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76). It is a crisis that has escalated, not abated.

Ma suggests that China's transformation to a market economy and modernization also began to reshape lifestyles and values, including those on marriage. With material comforts vastly improved, people are no longer satisfied with marriages that merely fulfilled the need to carry on the family line.

Especially for women, economic independence has meant power to be emotionally more independent, making them brave enough to walk out of an unsatisfactory union. In Wang's words, there is a new mantra: "Financially, I am independent. I don't need someone to take care of me. I only look for love."

Reports from Xinhua News Agency also suggest that more and more divorce hearings are initiated by women, with figures pointing to more than half the cases, in places as far apart as Beijing and Xinjiang.

Another contributing factor has emboldened suffering wives: Society is becoming more tolerant toward divorce. Public judgment has shifted from "shame" to "personal choice and privacy", according to Qu Yang, psychiatrist and veteran marriage counselor at the Beijing National Olympic Psychological Hospital.

Qu recalls from his own childhood being taught that "good people don't get divorced and divorcees aren't good".

At a time when conservativeness and self-containment were prevalent, society placed great value on collectivism and peer pressure had enormous influence, Qu says, and social scrutiny forced many couples to stay in unhappy marriages.

National policies, which reflected the moral values of that time, also dissuaded people. To get a divorce, the couple had to obtain a written recommendation from their employers as well as go through a one-month cooling-off period.

China sees alarming rise in divorce

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