来源：China Today 2007-6-13 12:28:00
Various theories and practices concerning marriage abound in China, especially in its cities. They include diehard traditional views, and, on the part of younger people who have been influenced by Western ideas, a more "modern" outlook. There are healthy, civilized approaches, and "theoretical foundations" that benefit the individual at the expense of others; as well as dross that sullies people\'s lives, and woolly ideas and modes of behavior that need clarification. In general, the complex state of society that encompasses these intertwined concepts is, to varying degrees, reflected in the institutions of the family and marriage.
Characteristics of Marriage in China
The traditional view of marriage, that “men and women should marry when they come of age” has now evolved into a far wider scope of choice, taking into account different personal situations. Monogamy still predominate, but there are now more late marriages, divorces, and “DINK” (double income, no kid) households, as well as unconventional life styles such as unmarried cohabiting, homosexuality, celibacy, trial marriages, single-parent families, and even a recurrence of feudal concubinage.
Reasons to marry have also changed from establishing an “economic community” and “reproductive cooperative,” to seeking emotional satisfaction. Conjugal harmony has become a more important reason for marrying, but there are also very “practical” people who regard the acquisition of wealth as the most important prerequisite for matrimony. On the other hand, there are people who are perplexed at such materialistic attitude towards choosing marriage partners. Those who suffer setbacks in their desire to marry, owing to an insufficient income, consequently feel a great nostalgia for the “pure” love of the past.
The ethical foundation of marriage has shifted from the family, and more stress is now laid on the happiness of the individual, and marriage is seen as a purely personal matter, having nothing to do with social stability. People no longer feel obliged to establish or stay in a loveless marriage, and certain young people are in favor of cohabiting, seeing it as less confining.
The marriage rate has continued to decline: from 8.918 million couples in 1998, to 8.888 million in 1999, to 8.48 million in 2000.
More importance is placed on the quality of marriage. The old concept, “the family is a cell of society, and family stability reflects social stability,” is now in doubt. Most people regard divorce as a personal matter, and no reason for discrimination. The divorce rate is increasing steadily, having risen from 13.36 percent (1.191 million couples) in 1998, to 13.54 percent (1.203 million couples) in 1999, to 14.27 percent (1.21 million couples) in 2000.
Moral obligations in marriage have also changed. Traditionally, a woman is “faithful to her husband to the end” and lives by “the three obediences and four virtues” (the former being obedience to her father before marriage, her husband after marriage, and her son upon her husband’s death; and the latter comprising virtue, appropriate speech, a modest manner, and diligence). These days, a wife is no longer her husband’s dependent and chattel. Women demand a marriage of quality, and emotional compatibility with her spouse, as well as sexual rights and enjoyment, and the freedom to act independently. They no longer think it a virtue to maintain a marriage without love, and are tolerant of extramarital affairs stemming from emotional love, to the extent of empathy. Traditional views on chastity have also met with a certain level of resistance and criticism, but still have great influence on men’s attitudes, that consequently also affect women.
More stress is laid on the establishment of a marriage, o the art of communication between husband and wife, and other skills that keep a marriage alive, and a marriage certificate and child are no longer regarded as a sufficient basis for its continuance. It is acknowledged that love between two people does not happen automatically or as a result of their being “bound” together. However, certain older people to whom the idea of self-reliance is totally alien, and who still love their marriage partners, and place great importance on the welfare of their children remain hopeful that legal restrictions on divorce will stay in force.
Changes in marriage and the family have both progressive and retrogressive aspects. Some changes concur with tradition, while others are avant-garde, and the intertwining of these conflicting ethical concepts causes disputes when put into practice.
Forms of marriage on the Transitional Period
The state of marriage on this, the transitional period, is complex. During the transformation from traditional to modern marriage, most marriages are in a state of transition.
The traditional marriage has the following characteristics. Owing to poverty-ridden and backward culture, survival is the main priority. Within the family, husband and wife have unequal statue---the man dominates and the woman defers to him. The wife is regarded as chattel. Under such circumstances, traditional norms prevail, and the basic characteristics are male supremacy and female inferiority.
This type of marriage still exists in the countryside, and in cities that are economically underdeveloped. Limited by straitened economic conditions, and bound by a sense of childrearing responsibility women are content with their lot of being a good wife and a loving mother and suppress any romantic fancies.
Public opinion is tolerant of male promiscuity, and within the traditional marriage extramarital affairs are generally those of the husband. These could hardly be termed “love affairs,” as they generally consist of sexual relations with little or no emotional investment, such as when men keep a mistress or visit a brothel. The quality of this type of marriage is low.
The “modern” marriage is based on high income, supported by emotional compatibility, and characterized by independent individuals. In such households, both husband and wife demand gender equality, relative freedom, and economic independence. Love is the sole reason for remaining married, and the relationship between husband and wife is that of a partnership contract, whereby each has relative freedom and the right to privacy. The modern marriage is therefore of a high spiritual and material quality.
Both husband and wife know that the secret of sustained love is to make each other happy, rather than to maintain an empty shell of a marriage. When extramarital affairs occur on one side, the other understands that everyone is human, and consequently have their weaknesses. If an affair should happen as a result of momentary passion, and the spouse is willing to end it for the sake of the marriage, their partner will be tolerant. Even if the couple divorces, they will avoid rancor, and often remain friends.
Marriages of this type are not large in number in China, and exist only in cities, among a small number of younger people on high income, or who have received education abroad, and been influenced by Western concepts; and among intellectuals.
The “transitional” marriage is half way between these two, some inkling towards the former, and some to the latter. Generally speaking, husband and wife have separate incomes, social status, and supportive systems. Their living standards approach “well off,” but, influenced by the tradition of male dominance, the wife may have a serious mental dependency on her husband and seek to “live in conjugal bliss to a ripe old age.”
If her husband has a extramarital affair, the wife usually feels wronged, indignant, and hurt, and will castigate him, but the eventual outcome varies according to different attitudes. If, on the other hand, the husband discovers that his wife is having an extramarital affair, he will be completely intolerant, and a cold war will begin, ultimately culminating in divorce.
In many cases, if a husband has an extramarital affair, he does not necessarily want to divorce his wife, and continues to perform his familial duty. On calming down at the knowledge of an affair, the wife often weighs up the personal consequences of divorce or compromise, and may choose the course incurring the least loss. The decision not to divorce is for reasons of not wanting a child to lose its father, having nowhere else to live, and being unwilling to take on the hard life of a single parent. Some also harbor the hope that the husband might repent and come back, and others refuse to satisfy the “intruder’s” wish by giving their husband the opportunity to remarry. Then there are women who feel that their age, and their being a parent will make remarriage impossible, and others in the predicament of a low income, instability to find employment owing to not having worked for years, or poor health, that precludes divorce.
They nevertheless suffer pain at being deserted, and try, therefore, to preserve their marriage, however poor its quality.
Then there are cases of women who enjoy high social status, are independent, and have sufficient resources to raise their children and sustain a reasonable life style. Once a woman such as this discovers her husband has been having an extramarital affair, she will immediately divorce him, even though it means a lower living standard. After their divorce, such women choose either to live alone, no longer being able to trust men, or to remarry, but generally with the aim of meeting their material, rather than emotional needs.
A Survey on the Quality of Marriage in China
According to a sample survey conducted on the quality of marriage by Xu Anqi, a research fellow at the Institute of Sociology of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, indicators of the quality of a marriage are: its emotional, material, leisure, and sexual aspects, and their cohesive interaction. A marriage of high quality is mutually satisfying; both partners experience emotional and sexual compatibility; there are few conflicts, and a strong cohesive force. Of the 3,205 couples surveyed, 22 percent were in a low-quality marriage, 75 percent had a middle-quality marriage, and only 3 percent were found to enjoy a marriage of high quality. Her conclusion was that most marriages in China are of a middle level.
Xu Anqi summarized the characteristics of marriage in China as follows:
Equality, mutual trust, and harmony are the most important aspects of marriage in China. The woman\'s position in the family has improved remarkably over half a century, and this is the foundation on which most couples may expect to live in conjugal bliss to a ripe old age.
Although most marriages have a strong cohesive force and are stable, the survey shows that certain flaws exist, and are mainly reflected in the small proportion of marriages that are based solely on emotional love, or those where the partners have insufficient outside interests, or whose sex life is unsatisfactory.
In addition, the Beijing Public Health College of Beijing University, and Hong Kong Chinese University jointly conducted a survey on 500 professional women in Beijing, as regards their state of health and quality of life. On October 14, 2001, the Beijing Evening News published the results of the survey under the heading, "White Collar Women Are Hot-Tempered." Women participating in the survey were between the ages of 22 and 55, and the results of the survey were completely unexpected. The mental wellbeing of urban professional women who have received higher education, have good living standards, and well paid jobs, does not measure up to that of rural women.
It seems that urban women are becoming more hot-tempered. They are often nervous, worried and irritable, and some are depressed at times to the extent of feeling suicidal. Yet urban women\'s physical conditions are far better than that of their rural counterparts. Any manual labor they do is lighter and of a shorter duration. There are few cases of high blood pressure and obesity, and they pay more attention to a healthy lifestyle.
In the countryside, most women are engaged in agricultural production based on the family, and there are fewer restrictions on their working hours. They often work with relatives and friends with whom they get along well. They experience less environmental pollution and less work pressure. Many rural women do largely manual labor, and need not exert great mental effort.
Young and Urban Women: Joys and Worries
It is reported that of the 30,000 Chinese women employees working for foreign enterprises, one third are unmarried. They are between the ages 20 and 30, have been through higher education, and are on a good income. It is, however, their fortunate conditions that make it more difficult for them to find good marriage partners. Similar problems also exist among other young urban working women.
Doubts about true love:
Many people long for an unswervingly loyal “Romeo” or “Juliet” type lover, but to their dismay, divorces and extramarital affairs continue to increase. Why is there such a big difference between expectation and reality?
A 28-year-old personnel manager says, “I have never courted anyone, because I have seen too much deception. Some men and women have several irons in the fire at any time. I have lost all hope and enthusiasm, and don’t believe I will ever know the warmth of true love.”
Desire to be full-time housewife:
A woman teacher who graduated from university one year ago, and now serves as a form mistress at a key middle school says, “I am so tired; I would like to stay at home, just cooking and washing. It would be good to be a full-time housewife.” A woman postgraduate who is looking for a job says, “I envy those housewives who need not work. I once worked as a governess for two Korean children, and their mother is a housewife. She knew how to take care of herself, and looks much younger than her age. Her only responsibility is rearing her children; she has no other worries. I think this is a good way to be particularly for the children.”
A recent survey conducted at Beijing University, Nankai University, and Tianjin Normal University shows that only a small number of female university students dare to participate in social competition and boldly pursue a career, while a few years ago, 85 percent of the female university students said “no” to the question “Should men pursue a career, while women take charge of family life?” Nowadays most female students think that a “career” means finding a good job, and they place greater hope on the happiness that being part of a family can bring. Certain experts believe that the reason behind this is the influence of traditional concepts. In their subconscious, these women identify with the concept of a “male center.” There is, therefore, still a long way to go before realizing true emancipation of women in China.
Perplexities over criteria:
The main criteria for men when looking for marriage partners is good looks, while for women they are wealth, education and height. However, extremely beautiful or ugly people are few, and looks do not necessarily indicate moral character, and contradictions therefore occur when searching for a suitable marriage partner.
One man, aged 28, with a master’s degree, and a monthly salary of more than 10,000 yuan, asked me more than a dozen questions. He wanted to know which is most important, career or marriage? With the rise of his own “market price,” is it normal to raise one’s standards when looking for a marriage partner? What are the main points to consider when looking for a marriage partner? What are the practical standards for a marriage partner? What are the most important criteria? He is now in the predicament of trying to select the most suitable girlfriend.
Young, white-collar working women experience similar perplexities when looking for a spouse.
The Middle-Aged: Divorcing a Husband
Suing husbands for divorce now constitutes the majority of middle-aged divorce cases. Out of a total 500 divorces handled by the Jiang\'an District, Wuhan City, from January to September last year, 417 plaintiffs were women, making up 82 percent. Among these women, more than 300 have been through college or higher education.
The main reasons for this age group of husbands being divorced are: their having had extramarital affairs; their being good at housework but having no careers; and their relying on their wives to be breadwinner, acting merely as "lapdogs."
A full 64 percent of the 1,102 divorces handled by Chongwen District, Beijing, involved women plaintiffs. It is reported that on hearing that the court would not approve their divorce petitions, some women committed suicide by taking large quantities of sleeping pills, or by cutting their wrists. This shows without doubt that women would rather die than maintain a loveless marriage, and how firmly resolved they are to divorce under such circumstances.
Judges in such cases say that women refuse to buckle under, are more independent, care more about a fulfilling married life, and so dare to end an unsatisfactory marriage. About 42 percent of women in these divorce cases had been married between 10 and 20 years.
Some scholars think that the phenomenon whereby "it is difficult to be a husband" is social progress. It indicates how women\'s economic status, position within the family hierarchy, and capacity to be independent have all risen. They no longer depend on a husband, and therefore have higher requirements of a man\'s emotional commitment, and accomplishments in self-cultivation, social status, and wealth.
Many women constantly explore the nature and laws of marriage, and the characteristics of both sexes, so as to adjust their mentality to suit changes in sociological norms, and so become more independent. It is only then that they can cease to rely on others and lead a healthy life, both physically and mentally, and take matters such as marriage, emotions, and sex philosophically. When problems arise in their married life, they do not just lash out and lose self-control. It is only by overcoming the "psychological osteomalacia" suffered by traditionally-minded women that they can come to terms with the choices they have of divorce and remarriage.
Sex: Reason for a Lawsuit
In the past, sex was not mentioned in public. People could not even mention whether or not their sex life was harmonious, as the overriding view seemed to be that a man of honor does not place importance on sex, and that it is only people lacking integrity and moral fiber that seek sexual satisfaction. Today, the sex life within a marriage is not only an important criterion for judging its quality, but can also be a justifiable reason for divorce.
The Beijing Evening News reported a lawsuit on December 19, 2001, entitled "Wife Goes to the Court Demanding Sexual Compensation." Plaintiff Li Gang and his wife sued the defendant Zhang Liqiang, stating that as a result of a traffic accident in which Li Gang\'s sexual organ was injured, causing him to lose his sex drive, the couple is now unable to have a normal sex life. Apart from civil compensation, the wife also demanded compensation of 50,000 yuan for emotional distress.
After hearing the case, the court ruled that a citizen\'s right to health and life, and to sex, should be protected equally by the law. The right to sex includes both receiving and giving sexual pleasure. The defendant Zhang Liqiang infringed upon Li Gang\'s right to life and health, and also upon his wife\'s right to sexual enjoyment, causing economic and spiritual losses to the both plaintiffs. The judge ruled that Zhang Liqiang should compensate Li Gang in the amount of 140,000 yuan, and Li Gang\'s wife in the amount of 10,000 yuan for spiritual harm.
On November 4, 2001, the Xicheng District People\'s Court in Beijing heard an elderly couple\'s petition for divorce by mutual agreement. One reason cited in the divorce agreement between Ms Wang, aged 60, and her husband was "an unharmonious sex life." According to Ms Wang, the couple had both remarried when in their 50s. Since then she had been in poor health, often bed-ridden, and could not perform her duties as a wife. So they both agreed to divorce.
In the past, the reasons mentioned for divorce by elderly couples, especially remarried couples, mainly involved problems of offspring, property, or character incompatibility. Very few people mentioned their sex life. Even when elderly people experience this problem, as long as there are no others, they just continue to maintain the marriage. Now things have changed. News from certain district courts says that an incompatible sex life has become a main reason for divorce, and is included in the ruling. This reflects the ideological changes that have occurred in elderly people and their pursuit of a high-quality life in their remaining years.
Marriages of Elderly Women: Turbulence Amid Stability
Elderly women are the most vulnerable group in society. A newspaper article entitled, "The Life of Beijing\'s Elderly Women Is By No Means Easy," summarized their situation: Low income from a pension, the least power in the family, on average a long life span, and widowhood.
Women live longer than men, and are consequently likely to be widowed. They also retire earlier, and their rate of re-employment is only one third that of men. According to the "Elderly women hotline," their problems mainly involve marriage (30 percent), interpersonal relationships (20 percent), and social security (12.6 percent). Problems in marriage are the extramarital affairs of the husband. It is generally believed that elderly people\'s marriages are more stable than those of the young, but the temptations within society also affect elderly men, especially those who are successful in business. Once they become wealthy, some begin to pursue younger and prettier women. On being divorced, elderly women are in an extremely disadvantaged position, and are forced to endure great loneliness.
Results of a survey show that a large percentage of 60-year-old women are dependent on their husbands because they have no, or little, income. Most men regard housework as valueless.
One 70-year-old woman said that she was restricted by her husband, who would not allow her to go out too far, or for too long, and who expected her punctually to prepare three meals a day. If her husband fell ill with any ailment, she was not allowed to leave him for a moment. She had hardly any contact with anyone other than him. To her the home was like a prison, in which she felt she was serving a term of life imprisonment.
The elderly who have lost spouses are keen to remarry, as there is a prevalent belief among them that an elderly person should have four things: a home, some savings, a spouse, and friends. Without a spouse, an elderly person has many difficulties in life, but the likelihood of a successful remarriage for elderly people is not high. They remarry fast and divorce fast. It is said that the divorce rate in remarried elderly couples is as high as 70 to 80 percent. Very few couples get along well.
Rural Women: Content with Their Lot
I participated in events organized by the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) initiated in the aims of reproductive health, with the main emphasis on poverty-stricken townships. I therefore had the chance to chat with rural women and hear about their happiness, anger, grief and joys. At the forums held in Heilongjiang, Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi, the impression I gained from rural women was that they are hardworking, unafraid of hardship, and content with their lot. They hope for an income and material life whose levels are not polarized; they are content with their reality, and are willing to share weal and woe with a husband. They do their best to provide for the education of their children, helping them towards prospects of success in life. TV sets in the countryside now being as commonplace as in urban areas. They have a relatively rich cultural life, and are also making ideological progress.
Tian Yaqun lives in Xicun Village, Xicun Township, Yijun County, Shaanxi Province, and is a native of Baoji. She met her husband in Beijing when they were working as laborers there. She is 36 years old, and has a son and a daughter. Talking about rural life, she said, "My family has an apple orchard that produces 5,000 kilos of apples a year, and added to incomes from growing grain and raising pigs and chickens, we can earn 7,000 yuan. My husband drives a motor-powered tricycle to transport goods, and all in all we have an income of 10,000 yuan a year.
"My family lives in four cave dwellings, totaling 100 square meters, which are warm in winter and cool in summer -- very comfortable. My husband and mother-in-law treat me well, and I am content. As farmers, our labor is not too tiring, since all farm work, including planting and harvesting, has been mechanized. Our main manual work is to put apples under cover and pick them in the autumn.
“I think another advantage we have is not needing to worry about being laid off. Our job is permanent, and in one year there are six months of slack season. We are free to go to work at any time, and have no fear of the repercussions of being late. Even though our incomes are less than urbanites, I do not envy them, and am content with our rural life. I am the leading actress in our amateur theatrical troupe. In winter, when work is not busy, we rehearse and perform. Our days pass happily.”
After telling us this, she sang us an aria from a Shaanxi opera.
Her case is representative, and many other women agree with her point of view.
Realistically speaking, there are many difficulties in rural life, such as the low prices of grain, high fees for children\'s education, hardship when forced to do odd jobs in the city, risks of "unemployment," and the increasingly high cost of medical care, but their positive attitude is admirable.
The quality of marriage for women in China is changing, along with social progress, encompassing both joys at improvements, and suffering that some changes bring. My belief is that it will continue to improve.