Marriage in the People's Republic of China: analysis of a new law.

Engel JW
Journal of Marriage and the Family. 1984 Nov; 46(4):955-61.

This report discusses those articles of a 1980 Chinese marriage and family life law which pertain specifically to marriage contracts. An earlier 1950 law abolished China's feudal marriage system and sought to establish a marriage system more in line with the principles of modern Chinese society. The need to introduce another marriage law in 1980 indicates that the 1950 law did not fully accomplish its objectives. In traditional Chinese society, marriage represented a contract between families. Marriages were entered into for the mutual benefit of both families and were generally arranged by 3rd parties. The groom's family paid a bride price to the bride's family and, upon marriage, the bride became a member of the household of her husband's parents. Concubinage and polygamy were common. Although marriage customs changed considerably between 1950-80, some aspects of the traditional system remained intact. The new law seeks to eliminate the remaining vestiges of traditional marriage customs. Specific articles deal with arranged marriages, marriage by purchase or mercenary marriages, concubinage, polygamy, marriage restrictions, marriage rituals, and residential customs. The 1980 law declares that husbands and wives have equal rights and that marriage must be freely entered into by both parties. 3rd parties may not arrange, coerce, or obstruct a marriage. Most sons and daughters still give deference to their parents' wishes when selecting a mate. Since dating is not common, most couples meet through formal introductions arranged by friends or relatives. According to the 1980 law, marriage by purchase, i.e., bride price, is illegal. Bride price remains a commonly practiced custom in rural areas. It is less common in urban areas; however, in urban areas the family of the husband often bestows expensive gifts on the bride's family. The 1980 law seeks to discourage these monetary practices. The 1980 law prohibits concubinage and polygamy. There is some evidence that concubines are still kept in some areas of the country. Polygamy remains common in Tibet, and the 1980 law allows all polygamous marriages contracted in Tibet before 1980 to remain intact. The 1980 law increased the minimum marriage age to 22 years for men and to 20 years for women. The 1950 law prohibited marriages between lineal blood relatives. The 1980 law extends the prohibition to 3rd degree collateral blood relatives. The 1980 law also prohibits marriage for individuals with leprosy or with any other disease which is viewed by medical science as making a person unfit for marriage. A couple is considered officially married when ther register at the marriage office. No ceremony is required. Expensive and elaborate marriages are discouraged by the government; however, traditional marriage rituals are commonly practiced, especially in the rural areas of the country. 1 article of the 1980 marriage law states that after marriage the husband and wife should jointly decide whether they wish to reside patrilocally or matrilocally. This article promotes the ideal that sons and daughters are of equal value to parents.

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