Marriage and Family Formations In Capitalistic China

During the Cultural Revolution, the subject of love was taboo. It was thought to be a recreation which should not interfere with the importance of the revolution. However now it is commonplace to hear stories, plays and television soap operas about romantic relationships.

In 1980, a new Marriage Law was approved which updated the Marriage Law of 1950. The law set a legal age for marriage for women (20) and men (22). The law also reaffirmed the government's stance on free-choice marriage, equal right to divorce and the abolition of child marriages.

In the urban sector, men and women are less likely to choose their marriage partners based on love than in the urban sector. In the rural sector, arranged and semi-arranged marriages are still commonplace. Parents look to kin or friends to find a suitable marriage partner. Sometimes parents will hire a professional matchmaker to act as a go-between for the family. Once the initial process has been completed, the woman and man are allowed to meet and agree to the arrangement. According to a survey, from two rural counties in Anhui province it was reported that only 15% of marriages were free-choice; in 75% of the marriages the parents first negotiated the match themselves and only then obtained the consent of the younger persons and 10% of the marriages were exclusively arranged by the older generation according to the traditional custom. (Croll, 77)

In the urban sector, organizations and workplace social groups have been known to act like matchmaking facilities for young single men and women. This form of free-choice is confined to the cities and the suburbs. Anthropologist Elisabeth Croll has identified a number of factors which have caused the gap between the law and the practice in the rural sector.

In the rural sector, there are fewer opportunities for young people to meet and develop free-choice marriages. Additional barriers exists due to the common practice of only dating someone who is outside the village and with a different surname. Also the division of labor between men and women while working on the farms has furthered the isolation between the sexes.

Some of these barriers also exist in the urban sector which has diminished the prospect of finding a suitable partner. Women and men who work in occupations which are dominated by members of the same sex or in remote places often find it difficult to meet potential marriage partners.

The familial role of women in the rural sector is two fold. They are responsible for the domestic sphere which includes household chores and working in the fields. It is not uncommon to see rural women working the land with children strapped to their backs. The second role of women is to produce as many offsprings as they can, preferably male.

With the advent of capitalism, women were forced back into their traditional roles and regained their second-class position. There are still widely held notions that women are inferior, morally pure and physically weaker than men. Though women gained nearly equal rights to men half a century ago, these traditional values have resurfaced.

Even in the urban sector, the status of women in the home has not changed dramatically. There is still a wide held belief that men are the breadwinners of the household and should be respected above women. The career choices of women are often made once the wife has received the husband's consent. According to Yao, many Chinese women have given up promising careers and self-sufficiency in order to keep the peace in the family and obey their husbands.

Within the domestic sphere, women exert strong control over the money matters in the home. In most households, the husband will hand over his paycheck to his wife who decides the family budget. Yet, keeping with the tradition, any large purchase must be condoned by her husband.


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