Chinese Migrant Workers in 'Temporary Marriages'

August 29, 2013
By Zhou Jing & Zhou RuiEditor: Zhu Yanhong

China's rapid development has given rise to internal migration that has seen more than 160 million migrant workers leave their rural homes to work in cities or towns. Many of these workers live for months at a time apart from their spouses and in recent years, the phenomenon of 'temporary marriages' has aroused public concern. [banyuetan.org]

China's rapid development has given rise to internal migration that has seen more than 160 million migrant workers leave their rural homes to work in cities or towns. Many of these workers live for months at a time apart from their spouses and in recent years, the phenomenon of 'temporary marriages' has aroused public concern. [banyuetan.org]

China's rapid development has given rise to internal migration that has seen more than 160 million migrant workers leave their rural homes to work in cities or towns. Many of these workers live for months at a time apart from their spouses and in recent years, the phenomenon of 'temporary marriages' has aroused public concern.

Faced with loneliness and boredom, many migrant workers form temporary relationships with other workers. They often live as husband and wife, despite having spouses and children back home or in other cities.

Recent media reports have revealed that there may be over 100,000 migrant workers in such temporary marriages.

National People's Congress (NPC) deputy Liu Li says she has encountered many such couples and points out that they contribute to the rise of rural divorce rates. She has suggested that the government pay more attention to the issue.

Fighting Loneliness Together

Zhang Wei and Chen Li work in Qiaosi Township in Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, and are involved in a temporary marriage. Their arrangement is common in Qiaosi, an important textile base in Zhejiang.

Zhang, 30, comes from Fuyang in east China's Anhui Province. His wife and children live back home and he only returns once a year for a few days during the annual Spring Festival.

Chen is two years younger than Zhang and also comes from Anhui Province. Her two children and her husband are back home, running the family farm. The two met at the factory that they work at and became close.

"Working alone, far away from my family makes me feel lonely and bored. When I talk to my wife on the phone, the only thing she asks is for more money," said Zhang. "It makes me feel unloved."

Finally, unable to take the loneliness any more, Zhang approached Chen about forming a temporary marriage.

"At first, I felt it was a hard decision. I have children and a husband back home, but Zhang has shown me so much care and affection," said Chen. However, she thought it over and finally agreed after considering the fact that her husband had also had an extramarital affair before. In addition, she talked to many of her women friends who were in similar situations and all told her that they were much happier now.

Zhang and Chen have remained in such a relationship for four years but neither of them has considered divorcing their respective partners because they both have children and do not want to break up their families. They send money home from time to time and admit that they sometimes send more because they feel guilty.

Although Zhang and Chen are a typical example, there are in fact instances where temporary marriages have resulted in divorces. When Liu Mei, a migrant worker in Zhejiang Province, fell pregnant, her temporary 'husband' Xian Bo divorced his wife and stayed with her.

Opinions

The issue has caused a certain polarization of opinions, with many Chinese netizens saying that it is unavoidable and understandable since these workers live separated from their families for such long periods of time and others condemning it as illegal and morally wrong.

Experts have said that the phenomenon reflects the normal physical and emotional needs of these migrant workers. Some have added that it may also be a result of the workers feeling relatively free and unmonitored in their new urban homes.

However, the experts warn that motivations aside, temporary marriages are hurting society by contributing to the rise in rural divorce rates --- which have reached over 50 percent in some areas --- and resulting in many broken homes and blighted childhoods.

Yang Jianhua, a researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences, says that children are the biggest victims in these cases as divorce has a negative impact on children and their parents' temporary marriages may result in them forming distorted marriage values.

NPC deputy Liu believes that the best way to address the issue is to make it easier for migrant couples to stay together. She has recommended lowering the application standard of indemnificatory houses required of migrant workers and making public housing more affordable to them.

Yang says that it is not practical to rely solely on the government to solve the problem. Society and the migrant workers themselves have a part to play. For example, society should provide more cultural and entertainment activities to the workers to help counteract their boredom and loneliness. Enterprises should ensure that their employees enjoy enough vacation time to see their families. And the workers should realize that while temporary marriages can fulfill their short-term needs, they could lead to disastrous consequences in the long run.

The phenomenon has also once again highlighted the need for the government to change China's household registration or hukou system, since many of the migrant couples are separated in the first place because their rural families are unable to enjoy urban hukou-related benefits such as housing, education, senior citizen care and more.

It is to be hoped that with relevant steps taken by all parties involved, migrant workers will no longer have a need for temporary marriages.

(Source: banyuetan.org/ Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)

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