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Finding everlasting love

By Tiffany Tan  (China Daily)

10:58, July 07, 2013

On the walls of Zhang Mucheng and Xu Dongying's house are photos depicting the old couple's happy moments. [Zhang Dong/For China Daily]

Divorce rates are climbing in China. Tiffany Tan investigates what makes a marriage last.

Many dream of finding everlasting love, but few have the tenacity to embrace it.

Some crumple under the weight of child rearing, keeping home or getting along with in-laws. Others give up because of money issues, illness or the loss of the first throes of passion. One Shanghai couple went through all these - as well as a foreign invasion, civil war and "cultural revolution" (1966-76) - and is still together to tell the tale. Zhang Mucheng and Xu Dongying were married in October 1930, strangers going into a union arranged by their parents. Zhang doesn't remember much from their first meeting, he told local media, except for the impression that his bride "looked pretty short".

Eight children and 83 years later, they've become partners in the deepest sense. Despite developing cataracts in both eyes, 105-year-old Xu watches her husband's favorite TV sports programs with him every day. Zhang, a year younger, sits with Xu for her daily dose of Suzhou ballads though he can no longer hear well.

The centenarians may have the world's third longest-living marriage today, according to reports. And the couple says they'd like to break the Guinness World Record for the longest marriage, held by a US couple, which stands at 86 years, nine months and 16 days.

How do you stay married to the same person for close to a century and survive your differences, big and small?

"Our relationship philosophy is, 'To lose is to gain'," Zhang, a retired traditional medicine storekeeper, tells the Xinmin Evening News.

"If you're unhappy about something, don't dwell on it Think more of your partner's welfare," he says. "Try to understand each other's point of view, give in to one another, forgive each other."

At a time when China's divorce rate is climbing - the mainland saw 3.1 million divorces last year, up 8 percent from 2011, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs - younger couples can sure learn a thing or two about humility and self-sacrifice. Marital breakdowns caused by trivial arguments, like those over home decor, dinner plans and clothing purchases, have become increasingly common among China's generation of single children, say marriage experts.

One couple even got to the brink of divorce because the wife inadvertently broke wind and embarrassed the man in front of his business partners during an important meeting.

"I explained to them it wasn't a big deal," says Ming Li, deputy director of the China Marriage and Family Counseling Center. "So they decided to stay together." Young couples nowadays have a hard time giving way to each other, she says in a phone interview from their headquarters in Shanghai. "Their parents have doted on them and they've always gotten their way. They don't know what it means to give and to forgive."

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