China Discourages Divorce, Attempts Are Hit or Miss

China Discourages Divorce, Attempts Are Hit or Miss

Home to one of the fastest-aging populations in the world, China is desperate to boost its birth rate, but certain attempts have created more outrage than babies

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Hayley Zhao
2:32 PM HKT, Mon January 16, 2023 2 mins read

Last month, Beijing local Wenyi turned 30 years old — an age that many Chinese people, especially her elders, deem ripe for marriage and starting a family. However, Wenyi, who has been dating her boyfriend for just over a year, is in no rush to get wed.

“I don’t see myself getting married in the near future. I probably won’t get married unless I decide to have kids, and that’s at least five years down the road,” said the newly-turned tricenarian.

The Chinese Millennial isn’t alone. Young couples in China have been putting off getting married and having children for a while now. According to government data released in 2021, nearly half of the country’s newlyweds are over 30 years old, but the overall number of people getting married has plummeted in recent years. Less than 8 million couples got married in 2021, which marks a 40% drop compared to marriage’s ‘heyday’ in 2013.

Naturally, birth rates in China have also taken a dive, plummeting five years in a row despite the government’s reversal of the one-child policy.

Divorce rates, on the other hand, have been on the rise. Social stigma surrounding divorce has been dwindling, and more couples are willing to get themselves out of loveless marriages nowadays.

Concerned about its population decline, the Chinese government introduced what it calls a “30-day cooling off period” in 2021. The new rule essentially requires couples to wait another month before finalizing their divorces, and it seems to be working — the country’s divorce rate took a nosedive that year.

divorce rate china

Statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs in the State Council of the People's Republic of China. Graphic via the author

However, many Chinese netizens think that officials may be going too far, especially after a recent incident. On January 8, the Supreme Court of Shandong province published an article on its official account on the Chinese superapp WeChat. Titled ‘You can’t file for divorce solely on the grounds of infidelity,’ the writeup states that if your spouse is caught having an affair but has not cohabitated with a third party, his or her behavior cannot be used as the sole basis for divorce.

The article has sparked outrage online. Furthermore, many netizens have pointed out that such a suggestion might scare people away from even getting married in the first place. A hashtag related to the article has garnered over 1.24 billion views on Weibo, China’s top microblogging site, at the time of writing.

Lawyers who have been following the news have refuted the notion that citizens must abide by what was said in the article, explaining that it was just an opinion piece, and an inaccurate interpretation of the Civil Code at that. Couples can still file for divorce if one or more parties are caught cheating, and the court will determine the outcome on a case-by-case basis. The Supreme Court of Shandong province has since deleted its contentious WeChat article.

In conversations related to the aforementioned article, some netizens have said that making divorce more troublesome does not address the core reason why Chinese youth are not getting married or having children.

Take Wenyi for instance, who said, “I’m not getting married or pregnant any time soon because the burden is too much for two people to carry.”

Both our interviewee and her boyfriend are products of the one-child policy, and the responsibility of caring for their respective aging parents fall on them and them alone. If the two young Chinese were to get married and have kids, they would also have to support their children through college.

Even though most of Wenyi’s peers have settled down and started a family, she is still adamant about not rushing into anything.

“I still feel like I’m young at heart. Marriage is the union of two families rather than just two people. I’m not prepared to handle all that pressure yet,” she said firmly.

Cover image via VCG

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