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China sees alarming rise in divorce (2)

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

11:51, November 13, 2011

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.

A decade of change

These processes stayed in place until 2003, when the State Council launched new regulations that canceled these complicated procedures. Couples who agreed to split could get divorced on the spot.

That year, according to Ma's research, 1.3 million couples separated legally, the highest number since 1949.

"While getting divorced still underwent administrative intervention and social pressure, the low rate did not reflect the actual quality of marriages," says Qu. "To some extent, rising divorce rates actually signifies progress of society." Once the bread and butter issues were resolved, people were looking for better emotional well-being.

But it is still not a rosy picture.

【1】 【2】 【3】

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