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Divorce in China

Divorce Rates in China – What’s Going On?


has been around since ancient times. But, until recently divorce rates were stronger in the Unitied States and the developed world than elsewhere.


With China in the news, we thought we'd look at divorce in this rapidly developing country.

Here are the two questions that come to mind.

  • Have Chinese divorce rates increased in the last decade or two?
  • And, if so, why are divorce rates increasing?

Divorce in China:

Divorce is on the rise in China. So much so, that it’s a topic of increasing government concern, prompting China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs to go to great lengths in order to prevent the growing number of dysfunctional marriages.

  • In Beijing, professionals calledmarriage doctors” are being recruited to save troubled marriages; their job requires them to intervene in a relationship as soon as warning signals start to show. Plus, there are a growing number of marriage classes available for couples to learn how to keep their marriage together and work through their problems.
  • In Shanghai, the Ministry of Civil Affairs launched a project called the Family Harmony Project in March 2013, a nonprofit devoted to training marriage doctors and counselors to help failing marriages and maintain stable ones.
  • Additional means of counseling are also available, including websites and a 24-hour hotline that provide advice for people with marital issues, as well as services “aimed at protecting the legal rights of divorcing couples.”

Let’s look at the facts.

China’s divorce rate has been steadily on the rise for over twenty years. For instance, a chart released by the government shows the divorce rate, as well as number of marriages and divorces in China from 1985 to 1997.

  • According to official goverment data, there's been a doubling of the divorce rate from 1985 to 1987. That is a tremedous uptick in a very short period of time.

For more up to date information, The International Business Times (2-27-13) recently reported that China’s divorce rate has risen each year for the past seven years. According to (3-7-13), nearly 2 million couples divorced in 2009. While in 2011, 2.87 million couples divorced - a significant increase.

5 Reasons for China's Skyrocketing Divorce Rate

  • Accessibility: The process for getting a divorce has progressively become easier.

In 1950, China passed its first marriage law and banned arranged marriages, concubines and child betrothal. It also started to allow divorce but on the grounds that the couple could only get divorced if “meditation and counseling” failed.

In 1981, China initiated another law, which stated that a couple could get divorced if one party was found guilty of having an affair, if there was evidence of domestic violence, if one party had a drug or gambling addiction, or if there was “complete alienation of mutual affection” by one party. As a result, the scope for Chinese getting divorces widened. The most recent development in 2001 got rid of the requirement that couples wanting to get a divorce had to get employer approval in order to do so.

  • Money: There are many ways that money factors into an increased divorce rate.

Everyone wants to save money, and couples in China are no exception. Many fake marriages occur because of the appealing property incentives offered to married couples. These fake marriages often end in divorce. In addition, because of the rising price of housing, many couples see the economic benefits of getting married and moving in together in order to save money. However, since the benefits of living together are probably the factor that is driving the marriage as opposed to mutual love and feeling towards each other, these marriages are also likely to end in divorce.

  • A New Mindset: Younger people feel less committed to traditional marriage than their parents.

The generation of couples getting married is mostly people born in the 1980s. This cohort has been called the “me” generation, so called because they're considered spoiled, only children born under the one-child policy, enacted in 1979.

In an NPR article, titled “‘Lightning Divorces’ Strike China’s ‘Me Generation,’” a woman named Cheng comments:

“Marriage requires forgiveness, understanding, tolerance and compromise. Yet we post-'80s generation neglect this entirely. No one will compromise. We just argue.”

This younger generation, though seen as spoiled, is also more independent, with a stronger sense of self, which tends to put strains on marriages. But there’s also an upside to this independence: young Chinese are taking charge of their own lives and making independent decisions.

They are embracing their autonomy by daring to fall in love, as well as prioritizing their needs in a relationship and daring to get divorced if they are not happy in a relationship.

  • The Advance of Women: The empowerment of women, both socially and economically provides more choices in an unhappy marriage. This is true in the developed world and is increasingly true in emerging powerhouses like China.

For men, it has always been easier to get a divorce. But, historically, divorced women were considered disgraceful; they were called “po xie,” which literally means “worn shoe,” which refers to the fact that, as they were no longer virgins, they were old and used.

To paraphrase a social commentator named Bob Dylan: times, they are a' changing.

Nowadays, the stigma against divorce has decreased exponentially, and women who get divorces are even seen as independent and able to take control of their own lives, unlike the traditionally stereotypical image of Chinese women as submissive and passive.

In a CNN article, Victor Lee, a film producer, in reference to the fact that in Chinese media, there are more female characters who get divorces and are involved in love triangles, praised the “economically empowered women dumping their immoral husbands.”

  • Infidelity: Loyalty remains an important reason to remain together.

Despite these many factors, however, the leading cause for most divorces in China is said to be extramarital affairs, leaving us to question: is independence among Chinese individuals starting to overpower fidelity in the traditional institution of marriage?


China is an emerging power. And, marriage appears to be changing as well.

While the Western world has been open to divorce for some time, China appears to be "catching up.” There are many possible reasons, like the tendency to marry for housing benefits and the like. But, we wonder whether the Western values of individualism and women’s empowerment don’t have a role as well.

The question we are left to wonder is whether or not this increase in divorce rate is a positive or a negative change for China. On one hand, it shows the growing sense of empowerment and independence among women in China and among the youth in general, but on the other hand, it is also prompting unhealthy and materialistic relationships, as shown by the lightning marriages as well as the couples that have gotten married for property incentives.

In becoming more like the rest of the world, is China changing for the better or for the worse?


Thanks to Lily Kong, an intern from Wesleyan University, for her contributions to this piece.


For more from Dr. Banschick:

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Your Children (Amazon)

The Intelligent Divorce - Taking Care of Yourself (Kindle)

The Intelligent Divorce- Taking Care of Yourself (Amazon)

Course - Raising Healthy Kids Despite Divorce: Sign Up


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