A 29 year-old woman in Chong-qing recently posted a personal ad for marriage that required candidates to complete a written test. Claiming that she wanted an intelligent life partner, she had designed the test in four parts: complete a pair of couplets, write a farewell letter to an ex-lover, reveal the amount donated to the Sichuan earthquake and comment on a novel.
The result? Only five of more than 500 men who responded to the ad passed the test.
The story is an anecdotal reflection of the changing role of women in Chinese society today. Successful women – those who are financially independent and educated – are finding it difficult to find an appropriate spouse.
For some, more radical alternatives need to be considered. In Shanghai, the local sperm bank at Renji Hospital Reproductive Medicine Centre has been receiving phone calls from an increasing number of single women inquiring about artificial insemination, says the Shanghai Evening Post. Many of the women, mostly in their 30s and 40s, say they haven’t been able to find a suitable husband.
The typical single woman who called the centre had a relatively successful career but now wanted to become a mother. Under Chinese law artificial insemination is only available to infertile couples.
For women, changing social mores have brought changing expectations of marriage. The number of divorces in China have been rising since 1980, when the figure was just 341,000. In 2008, 2.3 million couples got divorced, says the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
The same research shows that about 70-80% of the divorces are initiated by women. Divorce is also much more common in the more prosperous cities than in poorer rural areas. Urban women, in particular, seem to have less tolerance for an unhappy marriage.
Once regarded as a dreaded fate, divorce is increasingly seen as a civil right. The government has also simplified separation procedures – it takes only Rmb10 ($1.46) and less than 20 minutes to get a divorce at a local civil affairs department. The China Daily has even carried accounts of young couples marrying in the morning, arguing at midday and divorcing in the afternoon.
Many sociologists blame the country’s restrictive one-child policy for the recent surge in unhappy marriages. Children without siblings are said to be less able to sustain adult relationships because they have been spoiled by their parents, and are accustomed to getting their own way.
“Young people [born in the 1980s] are mostly the only-child and they didn’t learn to get along with peers. Because they don’t know how to compromise, couples are vulnerable to friction and arguments”, says Chen Xinxin, a researcher at the All China Women’s Federation.
But the increase in break-ups does not mean that Chinese people are losing faith in marriage. “They are looking for marriages of higher quality,“ Chen says.
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