The times, they are a-changing — especially in China.
For a long time, divorce was virtually unthinkable in Chinese culture. But for better or for worse, China has been catching up to the western world regarding its attitude towards marriage dissolution. According to a recent ABC News report, nearly two million couples broke up in China last year. That’s five times the amount of Chinese divorces in 1979.
In spite of mass disapproval from the conservative older generation, premarital sex and cohabitation are also spreading quickly throughout the country, particularly in urban areas.
New laws established in 2003 simplified the Chinese divorce process, handing control to the citizens themselves. Now, all couples have to do is report to a register office with their marriage certificates, ID cards, and a signed statement claiming that they want to divorce. The process costs the equivalent of one American dollar and lasts about ten minutes.
That’s quite the change from the previous rule, in which separating couples needed to obtain permission from their employers in order to divorce — and employers scarcely ever gave that permission.
Beijing counselor Fucius Yunlan suggests that the Chinese government’s one-child policy may be another strong factor in the divorce increase. Today, the nation’s leaders urge citizens to limit their families to only one child in order to slow down the population growth. The result is arguably a generation of only children that has less experience in dealing with sharing, sacrifice, and compromise — concepts that are essential in successful marriage and parenting.
However, Fucius sees the positive side of the increase in Chinese divorce. “It means choice,” she told ABC. “It is usually women who have acquired their own wealth and don’t have to depend on their husband anymore financially [who choose to divorce].” Of the current offspring of one-child families, Fucius added, “They have more information about what they should expect in terms of quality of marriage, from sexual experiences to good economic partnership to a happy life.”
Fucius also acknowledged the wide generation gap now happening in China. “If you ask someone over forty about premarital sex,” she said, “they say it’s absolutely immoral. If you ask someone under thirty, they think it’s OK. If you ask an eighteen-year-old, they say, ‘I want more.'”
Time will tell how such drastic (and quick) changes in social norms will affect the Chinese way of life in the long run. There’s always a chance that it will motivate couples to try harder to make their marriages work well, rather than taking them for granted.