Divorce freedom should be respected
Published: Mar 28, 2016 06:08 PM Updated: Mar 28, 2016 06:14 PM

Illustrations: Lu Ting/GT

The divorce sector of the civil affairs bureau in Shanghai's Pudong New Area stirred controversy for "depriving citizens' rights to free marriage" after it began to impose a daily 50-couple limit for divorce applications in order to reduce the number of "impulsive divorces" while curbing China's ever-climbing divorce rate.

Local media further clarified that Pudong's trial is part of a new nationwide campaign to more strictly regulate the rising number of divorce cases, which takes a longer period of time for staff to handle a case than the previous process. The more-complicated and time-consuming process (which the bureau denies is an attempt to curb Shanghai's rising divorce rate) will require husbands and wives to be separately interviewed by civil affairs staff in order to be independently evaluated whether a divorce is necessary. Additional interventions as psychological counseling and marriage coaches will also be required.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs released in 2015, the divorce rate in China has risen year-on-year for the past 12 years, with 3.64 million couples divorced in 2014. Shanghai contributed 52,871 divorce cases in 2014, a decline in five years for the first time.

Every year, when the national and regional divorce figures are released, there are suddenly numerous comments and debates on the interwebs analyzing the social, economic and psychological reasons behind these fluid figures. We Chinese tend to have a stereotypical mindset that in a divorce, one party is right and the other party has been wronged, that one party will win a huge settlement and the other party will lose everything. Very seldom does Chinese society see divorce as a win-win deal for both sides.

In Yunnan Province, divorce seekers were once required a seven-day "calming down" period to reconsider their decision. But the practice was eventually cancelled after public outcry. In Hubei Province, one civil affairs office employee was awarded as a Model Worker for her efforts in saving marriages. According to media reports, the warm-hearted bureaucrat often discouraged couples applying for a divorce by saying that her office's printer or computers were broken, forcing them to return a week later - during which time many couples reconciled.

I appreciate the efforts of any individual or government department trying to create a harmonious society with a controllable index or percentage growth in key measurements. For example, new policies have been introduced to curb China's nationwide real estate bubble; traffic laws are constantly being adjusted to deal with the ever-worsening congestion in big cities.

An ancient Chinese saying well illustrates the importance of maintaining marriage: "demolishing 10 temples is more acceptable than destroying a marriage." But in today's modern society, freedom of marriage is a very basic human right; nobody should be forced to live together if they are unhappy or feel threatened by their spouse. In this regard, divorce can help people and even save lives. It is a correction of past mistakes resulting from many different factors.

Contrary to tradition, divorce is a form of social progress. For this reason, nobody - young or old, rich or poor - should be dissuaded from divorce. Hopefully the Pudong bureau's quota system is purely a technical move instead of some ingenious attempt by the local government to deprive people of a fundamental freedom.

The opinions expressed in these articles are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Related story:

When breaking up breaks down the official process