Freedom from Wedded Bondage

  • November 25, 2011
  • Editor: Sun Xi
  • Change Text Size: A  A  A

Before the May 4th Movement in 1919, red, symbolizing good fortune and joy, was the convention for Chinese wedding finery, while white was the traditional shade of mourning. [wangchen.ccmedu.com]

Before the May 4th Movement in 1919, red, symbolizing good fortune and joy, was the convention for Chinese wedding finery, while white was the traditional shade of mourning. [wangchen.ccmedu.com]

Marriage Liberation

Li Na and her paraplegic husband's wedding ceremony took place on August 8, 1944. She was 13-year-old.

"At that moment I saw my whole life mapped out ahead of me. All I could do was resign myself to it and hope for better in the next life," Li Na said.

Before liberation, women had zero family status as they were automatically earmarked to enter another household.

"After entering husband's household I was little more than a servant. I had to cook for him and his parents and wash their clothes, but could not eat at the same table as them or go out. I had to lower my head while walking and kneel while sitting," she recalled.

Luckily Li Na did not need to wait till the next life for this change.

Liberation in 1949 rebuilt China's social class and wealth structure. Revolutionary soldiers and cadres traveled throughout the countryside telling rural residents their rights as citizens of New China. They told Li Na that she was now liberated and mistress of her own fate.

Li Na's divorce from her paraplegic husband happened as a matter of course, because as a landlord family he and his family were sent for re-education. But her freedom was real.

"The revolution changed the marriage relationship and family structure that constituted the fundaments of Chinese society," said specialist in the history of New China Professor Zhang Zhiyong from the Institute of Political Science and Law, Hebei Normal University.

Dr. Shen Duanfeng from the Research Center on Rural Governance, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, found out by chance while studying governance issues in rural Hubei Province that huge numbers of couples divorced around 1950. Realizing that divorce at that time signified a specific phenomenon in grassroots governance, he began to study this group of divorcees.

Shen came to the conclusion that arranged marriages before liberation had specific connotations. The marriage ritual included sending the girl's date of birth and the eight characters of her horoscope to the boy's family. If the marriage went ahead it signified that fate had decreed the girl become a family member. This is why divorce was unheard of in the old society.

The political significance of China's first Marriage Law that came into effect after the foundation of the New China was hence enormous.

Shen's research shows that 70% of arranged marriages ended in divorce after promulgation in 1950 of the new Marriage Law. Researchers consider the period 1950 to 1956 as the first divorce trend in New China. The six million divorces over this period included the end of pre-liberation child bride and 'blind' marriages, and those of cadres who had abandoned wives after moving to the cities.

"Divorce then had nothing to do with marrying for financial gain or to find a better looking spouse. It was purely for a better life. Life after remarrying was also not easy, but a couple could at least work together towards their future," Li Na said.

Professor Li Honghe of Henan Normal University has made a study on marriage reform in the early years of New China. His research shows that women were the driving force behind half of the divorces in that period. This is unsurprising bearing in mind their life of married drudgery at the hands of abusive husbands and spiteful in-laws.

Li's data from the files of six counties in northwest China's Shaanxi Province show that 291 divorces cases were filed in the first half 1951, accounting for 51.6% of civil cases at that time, 90% of which were brought by wives.

The marriage law also raised women's status within marriage from that of chattel. This is apparent in the records of Shengdong Village of Wujin County, in southeast China's Jiangsu Province. Before 1949, there were reports of domestic violence in 19 out of the total 20 families in the village. After liberation, women had more say in dealing with the family affairs and production and joined in social activities.

Many were also in charge of the family economy and invested in co-operative societies.

The Marriage Ordinance of the Chinese Soviet Republic was promulgated a year after the founding of the Chinese Soviet Republic (often referred to in historical literature as the Jiangxi Soviet established in November 1931 by future leader of the Communist Party of China  Mao Zedong, General Zhu De and others). Important provisions included: Abolish the feudal marriage system of arranged, forced and mercenary marriages (Article 1); Practice monogamy and ban polygamy (Article 2); A couple can divorce if one of the parties insists. (Article 9).

The freedom to divorce in the early years of the New China, however, led to extremes.

An elderly man surnamed Fu living in the same village as Li Na married in 1951 when he was just 16 and divorced the same year. His marriage, in common with those of most of his peers, was arranged.

"I got up early that morning and went to register my divorce. I then came back, ate breakfast and went to join in the recreational activities of the village. None of us took divorce seriously. Many people divorced just because others did. Some even divorced the day after marrying," Fu recalled.

The reason why an 80-year-old man surnamed Zhou divorced back then was that he was not satisfied with the eyesight and hearing of his wife.

Fu confirmed that couples registering for divorce formed long lines outside of the district government office that stretched for streets.

Things tightened up after 1955, when a valid reason to divorce became law.

Shen believes that state power undoubtedly played a leading role in founding of new set of marriage ethics.

The other main periods of rises in divorce trends were the 'cultural revolution', reform and opening up to the year 1989, and the decade 1990 to 1999.

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  • Freedom from Wedded Bondage2011-11-25   Editor: Sun Xi

    Before the May 4th Movement in 1919, red, symbolizing good fortune and joy, was the convention for Chinese wedding finery, while white was the traditional shade of mourning. [wangchen.ccmedu.com]

    Before the May 4th Movement in 1919, red, symbolizing good fortune and joy, was the convention for Chinese wedding finery, while white was the traditional shade of mourning. [wangchen.ccmedu.com]

    Marriage Liberation

    Li Na and her paraplegic husband's wedding ceremony took place on August 8, 1944. She was 13-year-old.

    "At that moment I saw my whole life mapped out ahead of me. All I could do was resign myself to it and hope for better in the next life," Li Na said.

    Before liberation, women had zero family status as they were automatically earmarked to enter another household.

    "After entering husband's household I was little more than a servant. I had to cook for him and his parents and wash their clothes, but could not eat at the same table as them or go out. I had to lower my head while walking and kneel while sitting," she recalled.

    Luckily Li Na did not need to wait till the next life for this change.

    Liberation in 1949 rebuilt China's social class and wealth structure. Revolutionary soldiers and cadres traveled throughout the countryside telling rural residents their rights as citizens of New China. They told Li Na that she was now liberated and mistress of her own fate.

    Li Na's divorce from her paraplegic husband happened as a matter of course, because as a landlord family he and his family were sent for re-education. But her freedom was real.

    "The revolution changed the marriage relationship and family structure that constituted the fundaments of Chinese society," said specialist in the history of New China Professor Zhang Zhiyong from the Institute of Political Science and Law, Hebei Normal University.

    Dr. Shen Duanfeng from the Research Center on Rural Governance, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, found out by chance while studying governance issues in rural Hubei Province that huge numbers of couples divorced around 1950. Realizing that divorce at that time signified a specific phenomenon in grassroots governance, he began to study this group of divorcees.

    Shen came to the conclusion that arranged marriages before liberation had specific connotations. The marriage ritual included sending the girl's date of birth and the eight characters of her horoscope to the boy's family. If the marriage went ahead it signified that fate had decreed the girl become a family member. This is why divorce was unheard of in the old society.

    The political significance of China's first Marriage Law that came into effect after the foundation of the New China was hence enormous.

    Shen's research shows that 70% of arranged marriages ended in divorce after promulgation in 1950 of the new Marriage Law. Researchers consider the period 1950 to 1956 as the first divorce trend in New China. The six million divorces over this period included the end of pre-liberation child bride and 'blind' marriages, and those of cadres who had abandoned wives after moving to the cities.

    "Divorce then had nothing to do with marrying for financial gain or to find a better looking spouse. It was purely for a better life. Life after remarrying was also not easy, but a couple could at least work together towards their future," Li Na said.

    Professor Li Honghe of Henan Normal University has made a study on marriage reform in the early years of New China. His research shows that women were the driving force behind half of the divorces in that period. This is unsurprising bearing in mind their life of married drudgery at the hands of abusive husbands and spiteful in-laws.

    Li's data from the files of six counties in northwest China's Shaanxi Province show that 291 divorces cases were filed in the first half 1951, accounting for 51.6% of civil cases at that time, 90% of which were brought by wives.

    The marriage law also raised women's status within marriage from that of chattel. This is apparent in the records of Shengdong Village of Wujin County, in southeast China's Jiangsu Province. Before 1949, there were reports of domestic violence in 19 out of the total 20 families in the village. After liberation, women had more say in dealing with the family affairs and production and joined in social activities.

    Many were also in charge of the family economy and invested in co-operative societies.

    The Marriage Ordinance of the Chinese Soviet Republic was promulgated a year after the founding of the Chinese Soviet Republic (often referred to in historical literature as the Jiangxi Soviet established in November 1931 by future leader of the Communist Party of China  Mao Zedong, General Zhu De and others). Important provisions included: Abolish the feudal marriage system of arranged, forced and mercenary marriages (Article 1); Practice monogamy and ban polygamy (Article 2); A couple can divorce if one of the parties insists. (Article 9).

    The freedom to divorce in the early years of the New China, however, led to extremes.

    An elderly man surnamed Fu living in the same village as Li Na married in 1951 when he was just 16 and divorced the same year. His marriage, in common with those of most of his peers, was arranged.

    "I got up early that morning and went to register my divorce. I then came back, ate breakfast and went to join in the recreational activities of the village. None of us took divorce seriously. Many people divorced just because others did. Some even divorced the day after marrying," Fu recalled.

    The reason why an 80-year-old man surnamed Zhou divorced back then was that he was not satisfied with the eyesight and hearing of his wife.

    Fu confirmed that couples registering for divorce formed long lines outside of the district government office that stretched for streets.

    Things tightened up after 1955, when a valid reason to divorce became law.

    Shen believes that state power undoubtedly played a leading role in founding of new set of marriage ethics.

    The other main periods of rises in divorce trends were the 'cultural revolution', reform and opening up to the year 1989, and the decade 1990 to 1999.