Marriage Law of the PRC (1 January 1981) and revisions (2001)


Marriage Law of the PRC (1 January 1981) and revisions (2001)
One of the major steps the PRC took to counter age-old forces that undermine women’s status is the Marriage Law of 1950. It outlawed arranged marriages, concubinage, footbinding and child marriages, and provided greater access to divorce for women. The 1981 Marriage Law reinstated much of the 1950 law while extending some of its provisions. The minimum marriage age was raised by two years to twenty-two for men and twenty for women, in order to encourage late marriage and delay childbirth, both deemed necessary for slowing population growth. Restrictions on divorce were further relaxed so that it could be granted even if only one spouse felt it was necessary. Like its predecessor, the 1981 law was followed by a rise in divorce. Moreover, the principle of equality between the sexes was emphasized in language that reinforced men’s and women’s equal status in the home and their shared responsibility in caring for parents and children.
On 28 April 2001, the National People’s Congress approved a set of revisions to the 1981 Marriage Law. These revisions were deemed necessary because social and economic changes in the reform era had rendered the old law inadequate, especially in areas of adultery, domestic violence, divorce, property rights and elderly care. The 2001 revisions specify that adultery and domestic violence are illegal and that the violating party can be prosecuted and has legal responsibility to compensate the other party. This is a response to policy-makers’ concern over increasing cases of infidelity, husbands having mistresses (‘bao ernai’) and domestic dispute, especially in the most developed parts of China.
These are widely interpreted as symptoms of spiritual pollution (see socialist spiritual civilization) and as such must be controlled. Most importantly, the revisions introduce the concept of fault in divorce, especially when adultery, domestic violence, abuse or abandonment is involved. This is an extension of the previous laws’ philosophy of protecting the rights of women and children, as they are most often the victims in the above situations.
Addressing the increasing material wealth and re-emergence of private property in the reform era, the 2001 revisions provide elaborate definitions about joint and individual property within marriage, prenuptial agreement, and property allocation after divorce. In addition, the revisions specify the social and financial responsibility of children towards their parents and that of grandchildren towards their grandparents. By doing so, the government assigns elderly care to the household in light of the nation’s demographic changes—a shrinking number of children (see little emperors) and an expanding proportion of the elderly. As a whole, the 2001 revisions articulate more fully than previous laws the legal rights and responsibilities of spouses, children and parents.
Croll, Elizabeth (1984). ‘The Exchange of Women and Property: Marriage in Post Revolutionary China’. In R.Hirschorn (ed.), Women and Property—Women as Property. London: Croom Helm: 44–61.
Ma, Yuan (ed.) (2001). Xin hunyinfa yinan shijie [Explanations of Difficulties in the New Marriage Law]. Beijing: Renmin fayuan chubanshe.
Smith, Christopher J. (2000). ‘Gender Issues in the Transition Out of Socialism’. In idem, China in the Post-Utopian Age. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 289–320.
C.CINDY FAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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