'Temporary Couples' Challenge Chinese Traditional Marriage Morality

  • January 13, 2014
  • Editor: Nancy Sun
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'Temporary Couples' Challenge Chinese Traditional Marriage Morality
Now a growing numbers of Chinese migrant workers find "temporary wives" or "temporary husbands" in order to meet their physiological and sexual needs caused by long-time separation from their spouses. Most "temporary couples" will keep their respective marital bonds when they live together. [baike.soso.com]
Now a growing numbers of Chinese migrant workers find "temporary wives" or "temporary husbands" in order to meet their physiological and sexual needs caused by long-time separation from their spouses. Most "temporary couples" will keep their respective marital bonds when they live together.

The sensitive issue was brought under public debate on through comments made by Liu Li, a deputy to the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) and migrant worker while attending the NPC's annual session, China's top legislature in March this year.

Liu pointed that a growing number of Chinese migrant workers who live far away from their spouses find "temporary wives or husbands" to meet their sexual needs. Afterwards, the phenomenon of "temporary couples" among migrant workers stirred heated discussion in society.

"Some of you may be surprised at such a quasi-conjugal relationship, but it has become more and more common around me and among the whole group of migrant workers," Liu.

Liu, a migrant from central China's Anhui Province, works for a foot massage company.

These extramarital relationships among migrant workers become more and more common and post great challenges to Chinese traditional marriage morality.

After more than a month of research and interviews with migrant workers in the city of Ningbo, the Contemporary Gold newspaper from Zhejiang Province today published a front page story on the phenomenon of migrant workers forming 'temporary couples'in the cities.

The newspaper recounts the stories of a few individual migrant workers in Ningbo that have formed temporary bonds of love and support in the cities to help shoulder the difficult burden of urban life. The newspaper quotes statistics from the Ministry of Health that around 80% of migrant workers in China are in a sex-starved state. And not only this, they are alone in an unfamiliar location, with little money, and no-one to comfort them. So perhaps it's not at all surprising that migrant workers are seeking to make temporary arrangements.

One of the stories that Contemporary Gold relates today is that of Old Shen and Xiaoyan, both married migrant workers, who found each other in Ningbo. Their tale illustrates just how some migrant workers are dealing with the difficult circumstances they face in the cities, and how they have to face the consequences of their decisions.

Old Shen and Xiaoyan were fellow workers. They gradually became better acquainted and eventually were chatting every night. They took care of each other and eventually spent three or four nights a week with each other.

Yet Old Shen was deeply vexed by his infidelity. So during this year's Spring Festival he decided to return home and tell his wife. The news was not at all well received by his family, and Old Shen and his wife eventually divorced.

Xiaoyan and her husband also divorced, and she and Old Shen are now living together in Ningbo. Yet they don't want to get married, as they are not sure how long their relationship is fated to last.

The temporary couple phenomenon has led to many social problems, said deputy Liu Li, citing increasing rates of divorce and extramarital affairs in rural areas, and the impact on the next generation.

Back in 2008, "temporary couple" was a fresh phrase and the phenomenon was just "sporadic," according to a non-fiction book written by Wu Zhiping, a writer focusing on rural women.

"The separation of husband and wife has posed a challenge to China's traditional agrarian family pattern, which features men doing farm work in the field and women weaving at home," wrote Wu in "An Investigation on the Life of Rural Women."

But the separation of migrant spouses is sometimes necessary due to high house prices in cities and little access to medical care and educational opportunities for their children.

"Physiological human needs and the failure of traditional binding morality in the original society of acquaintances have both contributed to the increase of temporary couples," said Dang Guoying, a researcher on rural policy with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

When a man or woman comes to a new place, they tend to be more "daring" as few people know them and there is accordingly less of a sense of moral constraint, explained Dang.

Many people keep a tolerant attitude toward casual sexual relations, while others maintain such unions are volatile relationships which can seem okay outwardly but may go awry at any moment.

There are examples of "temporary" couples becoming true couples, building a new family after destroying two.

"I don't think they have better alternatives," wrote Mandy-xiaoai, a net user on the popular micro-blogging site Weibo. "They just need some emotional support, and it's not rational to judge merely from the perspective of morality."

It rings true to some extent, considering the overall population of migrant workers.

China registered 150 million migrant workers in 2010, 84.9 million of them sexually active men and women born after 1980, accounting for 58.4 percent of the total, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

But some consider it degenerate. "Don't make excuses for the anomic," net user Leticia_liu posted on Weibo.

Li Changping, a rural expert from Hebei University, said one solution to this problem is to accelerate the reform of China's household registration system, which exclude migrant workers from having the same access to public services as urban citizens. The disparity understandably discourages many migrants from bringing their families with them as they search for work.

Migrant workers are not included in health care and other social security systems in their workplaces, and their children cannot sit college entrance exams away from where they are registered.

Dang Guoying also urged the government to make more efforts in promoting sound urbanization, bringing down the surging house prices and apply public resources to all urban residents.

At the opening of China's NPC annual session in March, former Premier Wen Jiabao promised to speed up reform of the household registration system and create a fair environment for people to migrate, settle down and work.

"'Temporary couples' will disappear on the premise of an improved quality of urbanization," according to Dang.

(Source: Contemporary Gold newspaper/Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)
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