Divorce in China is a relatively modern concept. Traditionally China has been a place where marriage was considered universal and permanent. But over the last 35 years there has been much change in this regard. China has a soaring divorce rate and now it seems there is even more incentive for couples to eschew tradition and choose divorce.
The divorce rate in China increased to 3.9 percent over the last year, with 3.63 million couples bringing their marriages to an end, according to the latest data released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The rate has been rising for twelve consecutive years since 2003. In its Social Service Development Statistical Bulletin, the Chinese government recently reported that the national divorce rate soared to 2.67 percent in 2014, compared to 1.05 percent in 2003, and 0.4 percent in 1985.
In 2014 about 3.6 million couples split up—more than double the number a decade earlier and they received a red certificate to prove it. The divorce rate—the number of cases per thousand people—also doubled in that period. It now stands well above the rate in most of Europe and is overtaking that of America, the most divorce-prone Western country. America has a divorce rate of 3.2.
In many countries, including Britain and Australia, there is a waiting period before the dissolution of a marriage is allowed. There is no waiting period in China, so this is not a constraint on couples wanting to divorce and neither is the cost.
Cost of Divorce In China
It costs about £550 to start a divorce in the UK; it costs $15,000 – $30,000 on average in the US and it’s $865 for a divorce application in Australia. The cost of divorce in China? $1.40 (or 9 yuan). China is one of the cheapest and easiest places to get a divorce. It’s also very fast.
Yang Yourong shared his story with The Economist who reported:
YANG YOURONG’s wife kicks him as they walk upstairs and he falls back a few steps, then follows again at a distance up to the cramped offices of a district-government bureau handling divorces in Chongqing, a region in the south-east. After more than 20 years of marriage, Mr Yang’s wife has had several affairs; she is “quick tempered”, he says (she had slapped him earlier, he claims). At the bureau, divorce takes half an hour and costs 9 yuan ($1.40). It is administered a few steps away from where other couples get married and take celebratory photographs. Mr Yang and his wife have second thoughts, however; they return home, still arguing. Most couples hesitate less.
Divorce is on the rise not just because it is quick, cheap and easy, but because there has been great economic and social change. Where once there were more traditional values, Chinese people have been exposed to more liberal ideas, particularly with the advent of social media. In fact, many couples who were interviewed about reasons for their divorce cited social media as being responsible for the rise in divorce rates. Married people previously had limited opportunities to meet members of the opposite sex in social situations, according to research by Li Xiaomin of Henan University. Peng Xiaobo, a divorce lawyer in Chongqing, says 60-70% of his clients have had affairs. This figure has risen as many move from the country to the city where there is more opportunity to meet people and there are some who marry in their home villages but then work away from home. Extramarital affairs are easier to have when there are more people to choose from and you can keep up the contact easily with social media.
But let’s not demonise social media – with it has come many good things as well. There is the positive spread of feminist ideas and the empowerment of women as they become more aware of their marital rights. With their greater education, more women now initiate divorce cases and are able to support themselves with the increased affluence of the Chinese people.
Extra Incentive to Divorce In China
According to reports, there has been a surge in married couples filing for divorce in China’s Shanghai. There is normally a daily average of about 10 couples a day in Shanghai who get divorced, but on August 30 there were reportedly 108. This is because rumours were beginning to circulate that those who filed for divorce after September 1 would have to wait for a period of a year before they could attempt to buy a property as an individual. Why did this start a stampede for the registration office?
Home purchasing rules in China treat married couples as a single unit. At present, a first-time buyer and resident of Shanghai can buy one property with a 30% deposit and 10% discounted interest rate. A married couple can buy up to two properties. The deposit for the second property has to be between 50% and 70%. So, for couples wanting to get into the property market some more there is quite an incentive to get uncoupled.
According to the Shanghai Municipal Real Estate Trading Centre data, by 3.50 pm on 30 August, 1470 new properties were sold. The previous four days had seen an average of 1,000 sold each day – almost double the daily sale record. The last time the daily sale record exceeded 1,000 was on 24 March. At that time, there were similar online rumours insinuating other changes in property regulations.
Charlie He’s parents were well ahead of the curve when it came to the question of divorcing to be able to afford a second property in Shanghai. The 28-year-old’s parents officially decoupled three years ago after they received a settlement from the government to compensate them for being forcibly evicted.
“It just made sense,” He said. “With the money from the government they could afford to buy a new house, and actually had enough money already saved to buy another house on top of that, but the rules in Shanghai meant that if they were to buy a second place, they would have to put down a very big deposit. It didn’t change our lives at all, except we could buy two apartments in Shanghai.”
In this case, it seems that financial security beat love.
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