Breakups to Makeups: Why Divorce Is Getting Harder

How have divorce and unmarried cohabitation been addressed in China?

Around 10,000 couples get divorced every day in China—but untying the knot may be getting tougher by the year, as traditional notions of family and marriage get embedded in the state’s language of national rejuvenation and social harmony.

At a 2016 conference honoring “model families,” President Xi Jinping proposed a new notion of “socialist family values,” featuring love for the nation as well as the traditional family, the “cell of society.” Since the founding of the PRC, managing marital relations have been tied to the state’s political objectives.

The PRC’s Marriage Law, promulgated in 1950, legally recognized divorce at the same time as it outlawed feudal traditions such as arranged marriages, concubines, and child brides. Unlike its predecessor, the 1931 Marriage Ordinance of the Chinese Soviet, the new law required quarreling couples to first undergo mediation if only one spouse was initiating the divorce—supposedly, some new cadres, seduced by city life and revolutionary fervor, were abandoning first wives from previously arranged marriages. Still, from 1951 to 1956, “divorce fever” (离婚热) saw around six million marriages dissolved.

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Breakups to Makeups: Why Divorce Is Getting Harder is a story from our issue, “Modern Family.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

Han Rubo is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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