Dial D for Divorce: Court Uses WeChat in Moroccan-Chinese Breakup


A judge in east China resolved a Moroccan-Chinese couple’s long-running divorce case with the help of a video call through messaging app WeChat.

The ingenuity ended 20 months of cross-border litigation, the Intermediate People’s Court of Nanjing, in Jiangsu province, said on its WeChat public account Tuesday. The district court responsible for the piece of technological wizardry granted the divorce on Sept. 18.

The couple reportedly met when the Moroccan woman was studying in China. They registered their marriage and made plans to open a traditional Chinese medicine clinic in Morocco. However, after the woman moved back to her home country in 2015, she cut all communication with her Chinese husband.

The husband filed for divorce in January 2016. A trial date was set for Sept. 12, 2017, but by July this year the court still had not received confirmation from the woman as to whether she would attend. Instead of setting a new hearing date and repeating the complicated process of sending a court summons internationally, Judge Chen Wenjun opted for WeChat, a first for the court.

During the hearing, Chen compared the woman on screen with her photo on the marriage certificate and also verified her other personal information. A camera was set up in the courtroom to record the video call.

Protocol for divorce cases in China recommends that both parties appear in court so judges can question them. But, Chen was quoted as saying, “this can be achieved by WeChat video as well.” He added that using WeChat made it easier to persuade the woman to take part in the trial. One precondition for using WeChat was that the case wasn’t complicated, the article said, adding that the couple did not have any joint property.

A court in Zhangjiajie, in central China’s Hubei province, took a similar approach in May, when Chinese-Malaysian couple were also granted divorce via WeChat. Local media reported that the case “made it convenient for the parties involved, improved the efficiency of the trial, and embodied the judiciary’s concern for humanity.”

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The Wedding Planner Reviving Naxi Traditions in Lijiang


YUNNAN, Southwest China — As the wedding party steps out into Lijiang’s old town square, curious tourists flock to the group, dazzled by their traditional Naxi attire. Many question whether the pomp and ceremony is a performance.

In fact, the Saturday afternoon spectacle is the real wedding of groom He Libao, 29, and bride Duan Jing, 21, both members of the Naxi, one of China’s 56 official ethnic groups. The Naxi population numbers around 300,000; most live in Lijiang, while the rest reside throughout Yunnan province and in neighboring Sichuan province and Tibet Autonomous Region.

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He Libao and bride Duan Jing are surrounded by tourists in Lijiang during their wedding ceremony.  Aug. 5, 2017. Yiying Fan

Though traditional wedding ceremonies are still common in remote villages, the custom has faded in the city of Lijiang since the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), when cultural influences from the Han ethnic majority began to overwhelm the area. But now, a local wedding planning company called Xihe is reviving interest in the tradition — partly at the behest of tourists.

“Tradition is like a siege,” Wang Dejiong, a Naxi folk culture researcher, tells Sixth Tone. “People outside want to get in, while people inside want to get out.”

Most Naxi people follow the Dongba faith, which teaches that humans and nature are brothers. Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, at important events such as weddings, the Naxi would invite a dongba — or shaman — to perform chants. Highly respected as accomplished scholars of Naxi culture, dongba pass down their duties within families from generation to generation.

Xihe organizes around two weddings every week, including the recent Saturday ceremony, which kicks off at the Yulong Bridge, where young couples would court in the old days. Groups of Naxi boys and girls sing in praise of the bride and groom. The newlyweds then release fish into the river to show their respect for nature.

After the fish are released, the bride is carried through the center of the old town in a fringed bridal chair — followed by a wedding party of close to 50 people — to a traditional Naxi house with three wings enclosing a courtyard.

In the courtyard, a dongba presides over the “soul-binding” ceremony — the most important part of the wedding. The dongba ties the couple’s hands together and announces that they can never again be separated. Afterward, dozens of young and old dance hand in hand, wishing the newlyweds happiness and prosperity.

I was so used to my own culture — all I wanted was to escape from it.

The ceremony does not include vows, as Naxi people are shy about expressing love verbally. “We believe actions speak louder than words,” the groom explains.

“Our souls are bound together,” the bride says after the ceremony. “If I ever got a divorce, I’d feel like I lost my soul.”

The ceremony venue is also the headquarters of wedding company Xihe, founded by Naxi woman He Yumiao — who is not related to He Libao. The company’s name means “joyful crane” in the Naxi language; Naxi people worship cranes and consider the sacred birds to be a symbol of a blessed marriage, as cranes are faithful to their mates. Once one dies, it is said that the other will starve itself and die for love.

Since its establishment in 2008, Xihe has arranged traditional Naxi wedding ceremonies for more than 1,000 couples in Lijiang. Wedding packages start at 6,999 yuan (around $1,050), and the ceremony lasts about one and a half hours.

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He Yumiao stands outside her company Xihe in Lijiang, Yunan.  Aug. 5, 2017. Fan Yiying 

He Yumiao, now 38, was born and raised in a Naxi household with three generations living under one roof. “I was so used to my own culture — all I wanted was to escape from it,” she tells Sixth Tone.

After graduating from high school, He Yumiao moved from Lijiang to Kunming, Yunnan’s provincial capital, in 1997 and worked at the city’s Naxi minority village tourist site as a performer. It was there that she wore traditional Naxi attire for the first time. Every day, she answered questions from tourists hailing from all over the world who were interested in the Naxi way of life. “It was overwhelming to see that they cared about my culture, which I took for granted every day,” she says.

A couple years later, He Yumiao moved back home to Lijiang and became a tour guide in the old town. In 2006, she met a Singaporean couple who had come to the city on their honeymoon. They were enamored with the local culture and asked whether she could arrange a traditional Naxi wedding for them. At the time, she knew didn’t know much about the ceremony — nor were there many examples in the city that she could follow — but she was determined to try. With the help of elderly locals, she organized a Naxi wedding in just a few days at Lijiang’s Black Dragon Pond Park.

It was then that He Yumiao decided to devote herself to preserving the Naxi wedding tradition. “I finally found where my heart belongs,” she says. “Folk customs are critical to an ethnic group, and a wedding celebration is of the utmost importance because it reflects the values of the [Naxi] culture.”

Tradition is like a siege. People outside want to get in, while people inside want to get out.

Naxi couple Li Jixing, 35, and He Dong, 38, stumbled upon the Singaporean couple’s wedding ceremony while they were strolling in the park, discussing their own wedding plans. Though they had heard elders speak of traditional ceremonies, it was the first time they had witnessed one for themselves. “I had never seen such a happy and glorious wedding in all my life,” Li tells Sixth Tone. The couple watched the entire ceremony and asked He Yumiao to arrange a similar one for them. “We always wanted a traditional wedding, but we couldn’t find a wedding company that offered such a service,” He Dong, Li’s husband, says.

The couple held their wedding ceremony in 2007 in their courtyard at home. Because He Yumiao’s business hadn’t officially launched yet, the ceremony was simple and brief. “But at least we had a ceremony,” He Dong says; otherwise, they would simply have had a banquet with family and friends like most couples of their generation.

After He Yumiao launched Xihe, she didn’t book her first wedding until six months later, when a transnational couple from Scotland and central China’s Hubei province asked her to arrange a wedding ceremony in Lijiang that brought together Naxi and Western customs. Photos of the ceremony posted online brought her many new customers.

But for the first five years of running her business, He Yumiao was frustrated that most of her clients were tourists, while many Naxi people paid little attention to their own traditions. “Locals would rather pay thousands of yuan to have a Western wedding at a church,” she says.

She credits tourists for helping to turn the tide. “The tourists have made Naxi weddings trendy and fashionable, which piqued locals’ interests,” she says. Now, half of her clients are locals, as more and more Naxi young people have begun to take pride in their traditions.

Yet the romance of the Dongba ceremony continues to draw many outsiders. Yang Cailing and her husband are both Han but have lived in Lijiang for the last decade. Though they had a Western wedding in 2012, Yang always felt something was missing. She decided she wanted a second wedding after finding out that the Naxi language had no word for divorce.

“At first, [my husband] was against the idea because he thought it would be like a performance for tourists in the old town of Lijiang,” Yang laughs. Meanwhile, she hoped the ceremony would spice up married life, which had begun to feel dull after a few years. The 31-year-old persuaded her husband to have a Dongba ceremony in January, and one month later, she found out she was pregnant with their second child.

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Yang Cailing and her husband hold a traditional Naxi Wedding in January 2017. Courtesy of Yang Cailin

He Yumiao started her company mainly out of curiosity, but she has since developed a deep sense of cultural responsibility. “We are probably the last generation of Naxi people to be raised in our local culture,” she says. “If I didn’t do something to save our wedding ceremony traditions, who would?”

But cultural researcher Wang still has doubts about the tradition’s prospects. “Naxi minorities are sinicized and tend to worship anything foreign,” he says. “It’s hard to revive the tradition, but at least [He Yumiao] is doing something.”

When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay


Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage.

“Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013. ChinaFotoPress/VCG

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013. ChinaFotoPress/VCG

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.” 

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013. Courtesy of Ah Shan

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013. Courtesy of Ah Shan

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013. Sun Zhan/Sixth Tone

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013. Sun Zhan/Sixth Tone

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Three Men Under One Roof


For over 15 years, Tan Zhiliang’s parents refused to let his family spend the country’s most important holiday — Spring Festival, or the Chinese New Year — with them. Old and conservative, Tan’s parents wouldn’t accept their son’s family. Since 2001, Tan, now 46, has been living with his partner, Chen Dezhou, 42, and Chen’s 18-year-old biological son, Jack. But this year, Tan’s parents finally agreed to allow Chen and Jack to celebrate Spring Festival together at their house. Tan thinks the photos of Jack he regularly sends his parents led to their change of heart.

Tan and his family have become minor Internet celebrities in recent years after he set up an account calledsannanyizhai, or “three men under one roof,” on microblogging platform Weibo in 2009 to blog about his family’s day-to-day life. Tan followed this endeavor with a public content account on social network WeChat in 2013, and the family now has over 50,000 followers across both platforms.

The family’s story has brought hope to many same-sex couples in China who also want to have their own families — an arrangement that to this day is still rare. Traditional beliefs about relationships and families dominate in China, and marriage law expressly forbids same-sex marriages, a fact emphasized by the recent case of Sun Wenlin and his partner, who lost their appeal against the rejection of their marriage registration earlier in April in Changsha, Hunan province.

Tan Zhiliang (right) and Chen Dezhou (left) pose at the rooftop garden of their apartment in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, March 16, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Chen and Tan first met in 1997, when Chen was a migrant worker at a garment factory in Shunde, a small city 50 kilometers from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province. One weekend in October of that year, Chen was reading magazines in a local bookstore, when he came across an article about a transgender woman. The woman was despised by her family and cheated on by her boyfriend for not being a “real” woman. It resonated with Chen, who was feeling miserable about his marriage, so he penned a letter to the journalist who wrote the article – Tan Zhiliang.

Over the next month, Tan and Chen exchanged more letters and phone calls, sharing the details of their lives. It was clear they had a lot in common, so Chen got on the train to Guangzhou at the end of Nov. 1997, to meet Tan for the first time. Chen confided in Tan that he felt no love for his wife. It was the first time Chen had ever told anyone, and he felt a great weight lift from his shoulders. The only route for young men in the small village Chen grew up in was to get married to a woman as soon as they hit their early 20s. This was a course that Chen, under pressure from those around him, also followed. Chen had already told Tan about the marriage before the two met. But there was one detail Tan wasn’t expecting: Chen’s wife was about to give birth.

Ten days later, Chen’s son was born into a home shared by two people who barely saw each other and who weren’t in love. With Tan on his mind, Chen told his wife that he was gay and in love with Tan. Her calm and composed reaction spoke volumes. “There was no love between us,” Chen says. He moved in with Tan in 1998, while Jack went to live with Chen’s parents. But after Jack badly burned his thigh reaching for a bottle of hot water in 2000, Chen worried that his parents were getting too old to look after Jack, and so he decided it would be safer if Jack moved in with him and Tan.

Initially, Tan started the Weibo and WeChat accounts to share stories about the family’s life together. But he soon realized that what he was doing mattered to other gay people in China. The family’s experiences have brought hope to many gay people who want children for themselves. For Tan, the message he wants to communicate is clear:

“Being gay doesn’t mean you can’t have your own family.”

But for most gay couples, having children is complicated. Adoption law in China prohibits applications that violate “social morality,” which includes those submitted by same-sex couples. If a couple is wealthy enough, they can use expensive services in the U.S. that provide surrogacy or in vitro fertilization. In rare cases relatives may let a couple look after their child. Abandoned infants are still a reality in China, and some gay couples might take one home if they happen to see one. But aside from the ethical implications, this is also illegal. The only option for the majority of gay couples in China is to remain childless.

It was 2001 when Tan invited his parents to Guangzhou to see his new apartment. Still in the closet to his parents, he introduced Chen as a friend and Jack as his godson. Naively, Tan thought his parents would be immediately accepting of the arrangement. But Tan’s parents hated the idea of their son raising another person’s child, and urged him to find a woman to marry as soon as possible.

In 2003 Tan’s mother told him to come home and visit a relative. But the order was a ruse, and when Tan arrived home he was confronted by a witch who put a spell on him. Superstitious beliefs are still common in China’s countryside, and Tan’s parents thought he was possessed by a female devil that was preventing him from finding a girlfriend. This was the last straw for Tan, and he told his parents the truth about his sexuality.

“I felt the air in the room freeze,” he says.

Tan and Chen live in Guangzhou, but because Tan is vice president of a state-owned media outlet means he spends most of his time in the city of Kunming, Yunnan province. However, the pair decided to live in an affluent suburb of Guangzhou because they think the city is more open-minded. Tan and Chen say that because their neighbors are well-off, they are more accepting of the family.

“Jack is active with the other kids in the compound and has never been confronted with awkward questions,” says Chen.

Photos of Tan, Chen Dezhou, and Chen’s biological son Jack, from their apartment in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, March 16, 2016. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Jack doesn’t think his life has been unusual in any way.

“I just happen to have one more dad,” Jack says.

Chen and Tan have been able to maintain a degree of anonymity in spite of their popularity on social networks, but they have shied away from some public events in order to protect Jack’s privacy. Now 18, Jack realizes that his life and experiences might help others.

“I just want people to know that gay families are as ordinary as other families,” Jack says.

In reality, Jack has two fathers and one mother. Chen’s wife requested a divorce in 2003, and the split was amicable. Soon after, Chen and Tan helped her move to Guangzhou where, according to Chen, she is free to visit whenever she wants. Chen has a child in Jack, and he financially supports his family — the two main demands his parents had of him. Because of this, Chen’s family has been accepting of his relationship.

“My job as a son is done,” Chen says.

Tan’s relationship with his own parents didn’t improve after he came out to them. In the years following, he lied to his parents, saying he had broken up with Chen. He pretended to date a lesbian friend, even going as far as to consider a sham marriage with her. But deep inside, Tan knew he couldn’t go through with it.

In January 2016, Tan posted about the changing relationship with his parents on the sannanyizhai public WeChat account. For the first time ever, he shared a post from that account on his personal WeChat feed, where all of his contacts could read it. Tan was incredibly nervous: He was lifting the lid on his double life and coming clean about his sexual orientation. He even worried that he might lose his job.

But Tan’s post received tens of thousands of views and comments of support, including many from close friends and colleagues. Despite the support of people in wider society, Tan was made to wait by his own parents.

“It took them 15 years to finally accept my family,” says Tan.

The English name “Jack” has been used to protect the true identity of Tan and Chen’s son at their request.


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Think Twice About Marriage, Shanghai Counsels Couples


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On a Tuesday afternoon in March, one of the young, soon-to-be-married couples at Shanghai’s Putuo District marriage registry was less than excited. Wei Jun, a premarital counselor, was asking the spouses-to-be to rate each other on a 10-point scale.

“Seven,” said the woman of her fiance.

This, according to counsellor Wei, was a little on the low side. In her experience most couples who come to her right before registering to marry score each other at least a nine, she told Sixth Tone.

Wei said the woman then burst into tears, asking aloud whether her fiance really cared about her. After some prodding, Wei found out the couple had come to get married because of constant pressure from the man’s family. Wei told them they ought to think twice about whether they should get married.

After their counselling session, the couple still chose to wed at the registry office later that day.

Wei is one of several volunteer premarital counselors at the Putuo marriage registry. Every Tuesday she talks to couples — sometimes as many as 30 a day — who come in to apply for a marriage certificate. Wei, 46, works as a full-time lab technician in a hospital. Out of an interest in psychology, she took a course to become a registered counsellor a decade ago. She had been volunteering at a school until December 2015, when Shanghai started with a new program aimed at preventing unstable marriages.

Shanghai was ahead of the national curve. Regulations recommending that every marriage registry in China hire premarital counsellors came into effect on Feb. 1, 2016. Now every couple has to sit down for a free, mandatory counselling session before they can apply for a marriage certificate. The new rules are a reaction to China’s rising divorce rate, which has increased more than tenfold since 1980in 2014 3.6 million couples ended their marriage.

Sun Xiaohong, the deputy director of the marriage management department at the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, told Sixth Tone that 58,302 Shanghai couples filed for divorce in 2015, a 9.5 percent increase compared to the year prior.

Part of this rise can be explained by easier, cheaper ways to get a marriage annulled — the fee is usually less than 10 yuan ($1.50) in most places, and it is waived entirely in Shanghai. The whole procedure only takes about half an hour. Also, as has happened in other countries, economic growth means more and more people discover they are no longer financially dependent on their spouse.

Sun said this has also meant that “people pay more attention to emotional demands.”

More recently, new rules making it more expensive for couples to buy a second house in Shanghai have led to them filing for divorce as a way to circumvent these regulations.

In the hope of halting the tide of ended marriages, divorce counseling has been available in Putuo since 2006. According to Qian Cuiping, head of the Putuo marriage registry, about 70 percent of couples who go through these sessions either delay a divorce or decide against one altogether.

With premarital counselling, the government hopes to lower the divorce rate by stopping couples who are not ready from rushing into a marriage that will likely end in tears. Wei has come across many young couples who fall into this category.

“A lot of people don’t really know themselves, let alone their partners,” she said.

Many people leave Wei’s office with more problems than they realized they had when they came in. Wei says she often makes happy couples feel “sad and confused,” but she thinks it is necessary.

“It’s my job to help these couples face reality,” she said.

On the same Tuesday that Wei saw the first pair, another young couple from Shanghai visited her for their mandatory counseling session. Although initially very excited to be registering for marriage, they realized after speaking to Wei that they had different opinions on whether they would live with his parents after the wedding and, crucially, on when to have a baby. The couple left the counselling sessions unhappy. “This is not ideal,” Wei said with a smile.

“But it can also save them from the heartbreak of divorce later.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

The Honeymoon Is Over: China’s Late Marriage Leave Cancelled


whatsonweibo

As of January 1st, the Chinese government has canceled the ‘late wedding leave’ that allowed China’s twenty-five-somethings to take a 30-day paid leave when getting married. With the policy’s cancelation, newlyweds can now take no more than a 3-day wedding leave. Chinese netizens are angry about the sudden reversal: “Who wants to get married if we don’t even have time for a honeymoon?”

At a news conference for China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee last Sunday, an amendment of the Family Planning Law was announced to cancel China’s so-called “late marriage leave” (晚婚假).

The amendment to the family planning law has come into effect on January 1st, 2016. Most newlyweds were previously entitled to a 3-day marriage leave plus the additional ‘late marriage leave’ that ranged from 7-30 days, depending on local policies. In China, the legal marriage age is 22 for men, and 20 for women. The ‘late marriage leave’ was meant for anyone who got married three years after their legal marriage age. With the revised policy, all Chinese newlyweds, no matter age or location, are only entitled to a 3-day leave.

The late marriage leave was introduced at the time of the one-child policy to encourage people to postpone marriage and childbirth (“晚婚晚育”) in order to help control China’s population growth. Now that China has started to adopt the two-child policy, the government no longer intends to encourage people to marry later on in life.

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Propaganda posters encouraging late marriage and late childbirth. 

On Sina Weibo, thousands of netizens commented on the news under the hashtag of “late marriage leave cancelled” (#晚婚假取消#). Many of them speak out against the new policy, believing that couples should be allowed longer paid leaves, also now that the two-child policy has been implemented.

 

“The government wants us to deliver more babies, but doesn’t help to reduce our stress.”

 

“The new policy just doesn’t make sense to me at all,” says Weibo user “ZPPPPL”: “The fact is that those who get married late need more vacations. The government wants us to deliver more babies, but doesn’t help to reduce our stress, nor does it offer us better welfare. That’s so unwise!”

According to Zhang Chunsheng (张春生), the head of legal affairs at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the average marriage age for Chinese is now 25. This is already older than the previously established ‘late marriage’ standard age.

User “Jennifer” does not understand why the late marriage leave policy coincides with the implementation of the two-child policy: “I don’t think couples will get married earlier just so they can have two kids. Getting married late is related to higher education and improved living conditions – that’s the reason why so many people choose to get married after 25 nowadays. We really need those longer marriage leaves to have a break.”

 

“The 30 day paid marriage leave was the sole motivation to tie the knot.”

 

Employees working at state-owned companies in China are entitled to five days of paid vacation per year. The late marriage leave is very important for many of them. Over the past few decades, Chinese couples have come to view the ‘late marriage leave’ as their right. Now that this right has been taken from them, many go online to vent their anger and voice their disappointment, saying they were already looking forward to their late marriage leave for a long time.

According to some netizens, the 30-day paid marriage leave was “the sole motivation to tie the knot”.

A user nicknamed “Heavy Manual Labor” complains: “The late marriage leave is a precious vacation for me, and now it’s canceled. The government really takes extreme measures to push those twenty- or thirty-somethings who are still unwed to get married and have two kids.”

Medical worker “Eileen” writes: “I don’t have enough time to get rest. The prospect of the late marriage leave was extremely important to me. What can I expect now that it is canceled? The government doesn’t encourage us to get married late now, but it also doesn’t encourage getting married young by offering any favorable policies.”

 

“How are we supposed to make make babies without our honeymoon?”

 

Aside from the worries of not getting that much-needed vacation, many netizens also worry about more practical issues, fearing that three days is not enough time to prepare for the wedding, let alone to go on a honeymoon.

User “Miss Wang” writes that three days is nowhere near enough time to cope with all the concerns before and after the wedding: “Have you ever considered the needs of couples who work far away from their hometowns, and who will already spend days just to get home for the wedding? You can’t just change the policy like it’s a game. This must be a joke.”

Another user “Jugeng Xiaoran” adds: “We need more than three days to prepare the wedding banquet. What about the honeymoon? Who wants to get married if we don’t even have time for a honeymoon? And how are we supposed to make babies without our honeymoon?”

 

“I will still marry late, I won’t have two kids, I am the boss of my own life.”

 

A number of Weibo users also criticize the government and the Party from a human rights perspective. “How many kids we want should be our own business. It’s our rights. But in China, it’s decided by the government. No wonder so many Chinese choose to migrate to other countries,” one user says.

“Go ahead and cancel our welfare,” user “RiveGauche” continues: “I will still marry late, I won’t have two kids, I am the boss of my own life. Meanwhile, I will work harder so that I can move to another country where there actually are human rights.”

The cancelation of China’s late marriage came without warning, and took five days from its announcement to its enforcement. Many netizens are caught by surprise, and suggest a ‘deadline cushion’ for future change in policies. Weibo user Vincent writes: “The cancelation itself is unreasonable, but what’s more, there is barely a buffer period for it. These kind of distressing policies will bring about social unrest.”

The amendment has led to a wave of last-minute marriage registrations. Since it passed on December 27, many couples rushed to get registered by January 1st so they would still be entitled to the late marriage leave.

According to the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau, there was a 30 percent increase in marriage registrations compared to the same period last year. In Shenzhen, the wedding registration offices were flooded with couples who hoped to get registered before the new rule would go into effect. “Getting registered for the sake of the late wedding leave” (#为晚婚假扎堆领证#) even became a hot topic on Sina Weibo.

One Weibo blogger predicts that China’s divorce application offices will be packed within a year. Another netizen agrees, and says that in China, marriage choices are distorted by policies. “And that is pathetic,” he concludes.

By Yiying Fan

New Hot Job in China: “Mistress Discourager”


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A new career is recently emerging in China. So-called “third person dissuaders” or “mistress discouragers” specialise in persuading mistresses to step back from their client’s marriage, and make an annual salary of approximately one million yuan (157,500 US$).

Saving a marriage does not come cheap. China’s “third person dissuaders” or “mistress discouragers” sometimes charge as high as 250,000 yuan (±40,000 US$) to persuade ‘the third person’ (小三), or  ‘the other woman’, to step back from their clients’ marriage.

The mysterious occupation initially started in the cities of Shanghai, Chengdu, and Shenzhen, but is now spreading throughout China.

The phenomenon was pushed to the forefront during the Second Chinese Marriage and Family Counseling Services Summit (中国婚姻家庭咨询服务行业高峰论坛) on October 10th, and became a hot topic in Chinese media and on social media platforms.

“80% of failed marriages have to do with a mistress problem.”

According to Shu Xin (舒心), head of the China Association of Marriage and Family (中国婚姻家庭工作联合会), it takes time and money to drill a “third person dissuader”. Training them to become qualified takes at least six months and costs over 300,000 yuan (±47,000 US$) per person.

But the money apparently is worth it, as specialized senior “mistress discouragers” make around one million Chinese yuan per year (around 157,500 US$).

During the Chinese Marriage and Family Summit, it was stated that China’s divorce rate has been on the rise for twelve consecutive years, and in 80% of the cases, the failing of these marriages has to do with a “mistress problem” (小三问题).

At the summit, Shu Xin pleaded for a regulation of the profession and its training, in order to avoid ruining the market.

“This shows that more and more people in China are having affairs.”

Users on Sina Weibo are also actively engaging in this hot topic. So far the topic “third person dissuader” (#小三劝退师#) has accumulated nearly 6,000 comments with more than 15 million views.

A lot of netizens see it as a weird yet promising career with Chinese characteristics (中国特色). “Demand determines supply. We all know that the common cause of Chinese divorces is marital infidelity. The rise of such a profession shows that more and more people are having affairs now,” Weibo user Tangguoyun says.

A user who calls himself PQ agrees: “The emerging of the ‘third person dissuader’ is the result of market demand.” He goes on to emphasize that the profession faces the risk of violating the law and moral codes: “The process of getting rid of a ‘third person’ might involve monitoring and stalking. It could also cause personal safety issues. That is why specific professional norms should be established by the relevant departments.”

“Curing the symptoms, not the disease”

The China Association of Marriage and Family called together the relevant professionals this month to develop guide regulations for ‘mistress discouragers’. The association also opened a nationwide complaint hotline to supervise the service quality.

However, the majority of Weibo users still have doubts on this occupation and consider it to only “cure the symptoms, not the disease”.

User Domi says: “Such actions are just a temporary solution. Those who have affairs are not loyal, and have weak self-discipline. Even though the ‘third person’ might be persuaded to leave the love triangle this time, there will be a ‘forth person’ or even ‘fifth person’ in the future.”

“Couples should do workshops on how to maintain a healthy marriage.”

In most western countries, it is common for couples to go for marriage counselling when they are having relationship problems. But couple’s therapy is not popular in China yet, as most Chinese people do not feel comfortable discussing personal matters in front of a total stranger. Although professional counselling is offered at local Civil Affair Bureau and Divorce Offices, people generally feel ashamed to share such private matters.

Some users on Sina Weibo point out the importance of marriage counselling, and encourage couples with ‘third person’ issues to go into couple’s theory together. “Apart from third party counselling courses, it would be good for couples to do workshops on maintaining a good marriage.” says user ClaraSY. Until then, mistress discouragers can make a good living out of other people’s love affairs..

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

“Divorced Yet?” – Why China Has a Soaring Divorce Rate


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The divorce rate in China increased to 3.9 percent over the last year, with 3.63 million couples bringing their marriage 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. “Have you divorced today?” (今天你离了吗) has recently become a common joke between Chinese people. While some blame China’s social media, others say the reasons for the soaring divorce rates can be found elsewhere.

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. The renowned Chinese magazine Banyuetan (半月谈) interviewed couples about their reasons for divorce in June, concluding that the mass adoption of social media across China is mostly responsible for the rising divorce rate in China. A lot of couples think that social media has turned them away from each other.

The report also stated that Chinese social media apps such as Weixin (微信, WeChat) and Momo (陌陌, Chinese ‘Tinder’) have made it easier to reach out to people, which has messed up a lot of marriages.

On Sina Weibo, over a dozen of media, including People’s Daily (人民日报) and Global Times (环球时报), recently took the topic online to initiate a discussion amongst netizens on whether social media is the killer of marriages in China.

“Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

User AkiraHunter commented: “It’s really not easy to maintain a relationship or a marriage. In my opinion, social media is a major problem. WeChat, Momo and Century Love (世纪佳缘) have become key tools when it comes to hooking up. Social media have made having an affair so easy.”

Other users, however, do not believe that social media are the biggest reason to trigger divorce. Some think that the higher divorce rate can be explained by the social progress and growing gender equality in China.

“I don’t think social media are to be blamed for the high divorce rate. It’s rather just a medium for expressing human thoughts and desires,” says user Night of Anhui Sound: “The divorce rate in China would have kept rising without the existence of social media too, as society is making more progress and genders are more equal. Women now know how to protect themselves in cases of domestic violence or extramarital affairs.”

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User Arale1 added: “We used to think that divorce is a shame for women. A lot of Chinese women put up with a dead marriage for the sake of their children, and because they needed financial support from their husbands. But nowadays, women don’t really need men to support them, as many women start to make more money than men. We have realized that we shouldn’t discommode ourselves anymore. Getting divorced is not the end of the world. On the contrary: it could be the beginning of a new happy life.”

“Nearly 40% of marriages in Beijing end in divorce.”

It’s worth noting that the comments above only apply to women in urban areas, where the divorce rate is much higher than in rural China. Nearly 40 percent of marriages in Beijing end in divorce – a remarkable peak compared to the national divorce rate of 2.67 percent.

Chinese women in big cities and urban regions now have more opportunities for higher education leading to well-paid jobs, which makes them financially independent. Young women in China don’t need to rely on their husband to support them anymore. Thus, money is no long the reason for not getting a divorce.

In rural areas, however, people are still not that tolerant of divorce. Many women are forced to stay in a broken marriage in order not to ruin their families’ reputation. It would also be more difficult for a divorced woman in rural China to find another man who is willing to marry her.

Another factor that cannot be neglected in this issue, is the China’s one child policy (独生子女政策). The post-1980s generation (80后) has been raised as an only child in the family, without having a siblings to interact with. This so-called “me generation” is often described as being selfish, impulsive and unwilling to compromise. Their parents urge them to get married, and then interfere with their marriages. The combination of these factors seems to be a major contributor to the higher divorce rate. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, of all couples filing for divorce in 2014, those born in the 80s had the highest divorce rate. “Lightning divorce” (闪婚闪离) has specifically been a trend among this ‘me generation’.

“We didn’t want to compromise, so we just got divorced.”

Unlike the dating culture in most western countries, Chinese couples usually do not live together before they decide to tie the knot. Typically, they date for a year or two – going to the movies, having dinner, occasionally having sex in a hotel room, or taking a few short trips together. Then the parents start to pressure them to get married. Some young women choose to get married in order not to become ‘leftover women‘ (剩女).

“Parents and other relatives won’t give you enough time to figure out with whom or when you want to be married. They believe it’s time to do it when you reach certain age. They pressure you so hard! We got married shortly after dating, and then realized we don’t even share the same values in life. As the only child in the family, no one wanted to compromise, so we just got divorced,” confesses Weibo user Kianase.

“Getting divorced for two dollars.”

In addition to the above reasons, the easy procedure and low cost of getting divorced in China also cause rising divorce rates. Before 2003, a reference from either the employer or a community leader was required for applying for a divorce. Many couples would not consider divorce due to the humiliating process. But now the rules have changed, and this is no longer needed. Unlike couples in other countries that are required to separate for a period of time before they can legally file for divorce, separation is not required in China. Couples can quickly, easily, and privately file for divorce. The divorce fee is less than two dollars and even free of charge in some cities.

However, these procedures are, again, changing. Some local civil affair departments have just launched the new policy of “limited numbers of divorce” (限号离婚), in hopes of decreasing impulsive divorces. Citizens in Guangzhou posted on Sina Weibo that they have to wait for at least a month to file for divorce.

The new policy finds online support. As the user Yefuping says: “Some government working efficiencies should be improved, while others should be slowed down. The speed of processing divorce should definitely be reduced, so that couples have some time to think twice before they sign the papers.”

By Yiying Fan

Images by Manya Koetse

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

How China’s Post-90s Think About Love


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This year’s inofficial Chinese Valentine’s Day has brought about love-related online surveys and discussions, bringing new insights into how China’s younger generations think about love: the Post-90s generation holds other views than expected.

In Chinese, the pronunciation of ‘520’ sounds like “wo ai ni”, which means “I love you”. That’s why netizens in China have chosen 5/20, May 20th, as their unofficial Internet Valentine’s Day. This May, “Sweet520#” ( #甜蜜520#) became a number one hot topic on Sina Weibo.

As the 5/20 ‘Valentine’s Day’ has been getting more popular over the years, Shanghai’s Fudan University released a report on Internet and Contemporary Undergraduates this month, showing that Post-90s university students in China are calm, rational, practical and trustworthy when it comes to love and relationships. The survey revealed that the Post-90s generation sees more value in their partner’s comprehensive qualities and capabilities than in their family background or appearance.

Coincidently, another new survey on outlooks on love, conducted by Renren.com, obtained similar conclusions. Amongst the 2,573 Post-90s university students that participated in the multiple-choice survey, a whopping 87.1% and 81.1% listed ‘personality’ and ‘having things in common’ as the most important factors in a relationship, followed by ‘appearance and figure'(58.2%). Economic condition and educational background, surprisingly, only accounted for 32.3% and 23.9% respectively.

“The Post-90s generation is mature and pragmatic in terms of love”

The aforementioned surveys triggered discussions on Sina Weibo on May 20. CNR (China National Radio) invited users to take part in the discussion on its public Weibo account. Results displayed that roughly 80% of Weibo users hold the idea that the Post-90s generation is mature and pragmatic in terms of love, as they focus more on personality and moral quality.

Weibo user ‘Big Blue’ said: “Every generation has its own distinct outlook on love. The post-60s generation emphasizes family background; post-70s generation values moral quality; the post 1980s generation wouldn’t get married without a house, while the Post-90s generation pay more attention to personality and things in common. This is a sign of social progress and development.”

“Economic base determines the superstructure”

Another Post-90s Weibo user called ‘Match-ups’ said: “We pay more attention to spiritual life rather than material life as the majority of Post-90s are highly educated. Plus, personality and common language play important roles in marriage anyways.” However, about 20% of Weibo users believe that a successful marriage is more than matching personalities. As a popular saying goes: “Economic base determines the superstructure.”

User ‘Ling’ expressed the importance of economic circumstances: “I’m Post-90s and I’m willing to face the reality – it’s better to be practical as the societal competition is fierce. Money is important. Everything else is empty.”

China’s Post-90s generation is generally labeled as ‘free-spirited’ and ‘capricious’. These new surveys and discussions on social networking sites have showed another side: a mature attitude towards relationships and marriage. As the Post-90s are reaching the appropriate age for marriage, they tend to think more about their future like an adult, instead of being childish and self-willed.

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This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Chinese Relationship Guru to Women: Put Motherhood On Hold


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Do not get pregnant too soon – that is the message of China’s most popular relationship advisor to women on Weibo. The post became an instant hit, igniting online discussions of becoming a mom directly after marriage.

Chinese best-selling author Lu Qi (陆琪), also known as one of the most popular relationship advisors on Sina Weibo, advises Chinese women on his Weibo account not to have children too quickly after getting married. The post resonated with millions of female Weibo users since it was published on May 10.

In the post, titled “Do Not Become a Mother Too Young” (不要太早当妈), Lu Qi writes about how a young girl from rural China had to give up her dream of studying at the China Academy of Art because she got pregnant. She could have become an artist and live the life of her dreams, but instead, she got married young and had a child at 18 years old. She remained in the small rural town with its narrow-minded community, raising the baby instead of going to university. Lu also illustrates how the dreams of a myriad of other young Chinese women were crushed after being forced by their husbands and parents to have kids.

“So many places to explore, so many dreams to pursue.”

Lu Qi shared his thoughts with his 21 million followers on Weibo: “I always believe that it’s irresponsible for a woman to have a child unprepared, no matter whether it’s an accident or persuasion. A mother’s love is a woman’s nature, and some people make use of this ‘nature’ to limit and change women – and they usually get what they want, which is horrible.”

Lu Qi adds that he hopes that all girls will understand that motherhood is not about carrying on the family line, or something that parents or husband urge you to do, and also not something that happens by accident. Having and raising a child will change your life for good. Once you are a mother, you have to be responsible and are limited to do what you can do with your life. There are so many places to explore in the world and so many dreams to pursue – why not achieve these goals when you are still young and then having a child when you and your husband are both ready?

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Relationship guru Lu Qi’s Weibo post ‘do not become a mother too young’ has been viewed over 66 million times.

The hashtag #不要太早当妈# (‘do not become a mother too young’) has been viewed over 66 million times on Weibo in the past few days. An ongoing poll shows that 78% Weibo users support the idea of waiting a while before having babies.

Weibo user ‘Small Fox’ cannot agree more with Lu Qi. She replied on his post: “I would have preferred having babies later in life, but my husband and parents-in-law pushed me very hard to become pregnant as soon as possible. I really regretted my decision as all the efforts I’ve made on my career were in vain. I’m not even sure if I’m able to go back to work after my kid goes to kindergarten, and I don’t know what I can do.”

“I feel like I’m not living for myself.”

“I believe I have the right to say something here, as I’ve already had two kids at age 24,” Weibo user ‘Xiaoshan Niuniu’ writes. She confesses that she would have rather waited a while to have kids if she could choose again: “I feel like I’m not living for myself since I gave birth to my kids. It makes me so sad, especially when my husband leaves the kids alone with me so that he can go out and have fun with his friends. Both husband and wife need to shoulder the responsibility for bringing up the children. However, the society holds the view that the wife is supposed to take care of both the kids and the husband. We also have our own goals and dreams!”

In Chinese culture, women are expected to devote themselves to raising the children and looking after the husband regardless how successful or ambitious they are before tying the knot. In the recent decade, Chinese women increasingly fight for their rights. Female netizens express that it means a lot to them that male icon, Lu Qi, supports them in propagating his message to women: pursue your dreams, working hard for your career, and only become a mother when the time is right.

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This article was published on What’s on Weibo.