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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Modern Divorce in Communist China

Like here in the West, the once-solid traditional concept of family and the institution of marriage has been placed under great stress in China; a country where, for centuries, marriage was universal and mostly permanent.

Social trends affecting the family have been directly engineered by the modern communist state in China [like the one-child policy] as well as indirectly [as in the massive urbanization push of the past five years]. Add Internet access for over a billion people and, watch the infidelity rate, along with the divorce rate, increase significantly.

Until 1994, the Chinese divorce petitioner was required to produce an employer's or community leader's endorsement before a decree would issue. Community leader translates as: the local apparatchik.

In modern China, the lid is now blown-off the divorce process. Today, if husband and wife agree, it is nothing more than a brief administrative detention.

Divorce is handled in China at the district government bureau level. Some cases only take a half hour at the dingy bureau offices and cost the equivalent of a buck and a half. Yes, that's one dollar and fifty cents.

No lawyers, of course. Property has always meant something different in communist China; property is always handled by the government in China. When it comes to divorce, China's separate property laws favor men who more often take advantage of property gifted to them by their parents, even during the marriage; such property remains the husband's separate estate under Chinese divorce laws.

America has the highest divorce rate among developed Western countries; China's divorce rate is fast-approaching ours, with 3.6 million million Chinese couples calling it quits in 2014.

The Chinese government's internal migration effort has been characterized as the largest and most profound in human history. This massive displacement has put a lethal amount of stress on millions upon millions of marriages in modern China.

Another factor related to China's increasing divorce rate is the effect of the Internet and social media on women's awareness of their rights in a divorce; not ever a topic for consideration in Mao's era and through the 1980s. Today, women initiate over half of all Chinese divorce filings.

Let's not forget, however, that China still has a component of its population adhering to Confucian-style family values and the multi-generational family structure. Divorce and separation are seen by the more mature generations as a moral failure, often caused, at least in part, by creeping Western influences.

For the young and recently urbanized, infidelity is a new-found freedom and [possibly arranged] marriages are left behind, along with their parents' village. Another factor to consider within the urbanization context is that men still cannot legally marry in China until age 22, the oldest such restriction on the planet.

So the immediate outlook is that China, along with the United States, will lead the world in the rate of divorce. This is probably not a good thing; it is a seemingly inescapable fact of life in the developed world.

Post Scripts: Apparently, we are not the only ones thinking about this topic; take a look at Helen Gao's article in the Sunday NYT from October 16, 2016. And another on the topic courtesy of The Economist from November 30, 2016.

Post #519

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