Does Divorce Represent Social Progress?
Divorces-a New Social Phenomenon in China
Divorce used to be very rare in our country. In old
times it was not necessary for a man to divorce his wife as he could
easily marry another or many others. But women were expected to suffer in
silence, and for those who could not, suicide
was the only way out. Despite the new marriage laws after Liberation,
women still found the feudal conventions too strong for them to break away
from. The film The Well drove home this point only too well.
It's only in the past decade, ever since our opening up
to the outside world, that things are really beginning to change. The
following story, dramatic as it sounds, is a true and far from unique
story of our times.
Thirty-year old Xia Yafang used to work in a research
institute in Shanghai. Like most young people of her age her ambition was
to go abroad and somehow she managed to land herself in Japan. She started
to work as a casual labourer in a tourist company in Tokyo. Because of her
industry and exceptional ability, and also partly due to chance, she
worked herself up to the position of assistant-manager. A brilliant career
lay ahead of her and her future looked ever so bright.
When all seemed to be plain sailing Xiao Xia suddenly
lost her peace of mind when she found the admiring eyes of the manager
constantly fixed on her. The message the eyes sent out was too obvious to
be mistaken. She read in them admiration, love and desire. She could not
remain unmoved, but she was caught in a dilemma. She had a husband at home
and also a little son. So when the manager formally proposed to her she
naturally told him that the whole thing was impossible as she already had
a happy little family. But nothing could put the manager off. So deep was
his love for her. He pressed his suit and wanted her to divorce her
husband and marry him instead. If she had been a single woman she would
have accepted him without any hesitation. Now she did not know what to do.
The manager gave her a fortnight's leave to go home and
talk things over with her husband. If he agreed to let his wife go, the
manager would pay him a substantial sum as compensation, and also make
arrangement for their son to be brought up and settle in Japan.
When she stepped down from her plane at the airport in
Shanghai, she immediately spotted her husband with their child in his arm
waiting in the crowd. When she saw him pushing his way through the crowd
towards her, tears welled up in her eyes and she started to sob
In the days that followed, she was overwhelmed by her
husband's loving care and tenderness. She just could not bring herself to
talk about a divorce. In the end she left Shanghai without mentioning a
word about her manager and his offer.
But that was not the end of the affair. The manager
just would not give her up. He decided to come to Shanghai in person and
talk to her husband direct. For the first three days he behaved as if
there was nothing between him and Xiao Xia. He let the couple take him
around in Shanghai, having a nice time like any other tourist. In the
process he managed to win the husband's friendship and trust. Then on the
third night he invited the husband to his room in his hotel alone. There
he put the whole thing to him openly and frankly, disguising nothing. The
shock for the husband can well be imagined.
He went home to his wife in a dazed state of mind. He
didn't mention a word to his wife about his conversation with her manager.
There was no need to. She didn't say anything either. She just gave him
time to sort things.out for himself.
When the initial shock was over, he started to do some
clear thinking and cool calculation. His wife no longer loved him, at
least not undividedly as before. Even if he should forcibly keep her, the
shadow of the manager would always stand between them. She would have a
much better future with the manager who could offer her much more than he
could ever hope to offer. And their son, too, would have a much better
future in that fabulously rich land.
Yes, he must
admit it, he was thinking for himself too. The "compensation"
the manager offered him was an astronomical figure. With it he could say
good-bye to poverty for ever. He could even buy a luxury apartment, a car,
and find a beautiful young wife... And so his feeling of loss, his wounded
pride gave way to a new found equilibrium.
After the necessary procedure of a divorce and her
arrangements and application for another marriage, he saw his former wife
and her future husband to the airport. What went through his mind as he
watched their retreating figures walking
towards the plane?
Xiao Xia's story was carried in Shanghaz Legal World.
While refraining from moralizing himself, the writer asks the readers to
draw their own moral and ethical conclusions. I know many similar cases
involving people close to me. In fact I had to act as the legal
representative for one. The woman in the office that handled the case told
me that such divorce cases ( involving one party that has gone abroad )
are very common. So long as no questions of property or care of children
are involved, divorces are granted without any questions asked.
II . Read
Read the following passages. Underline the important
viewpoints while reading.
1. On Splitting
One affternoon recently, two unrelated friends called
to tell me that, well, their marriages hadn't made it. One was leaving his
wife for another woman. The other was leaving her husband because "
we thought it best."
As always after such increasingly common calls, I felt
helpless and angry. What had happened to those solemn vows that one of the
couples had stammered on a steamy August afternoon three years earlier?
And what had happened to the joy my wife and I had sensed when we visited
the other couple and their two children last year, the feeling they gave
us that here, in this increasingly fractionated world, was a constructive
I did not feel anger at my friends personally: Given
the era and their feelings, their decisions probably made sense. What
angered me was the loss of years and energy. It was an anger similar to
that I feel when I see abandoned faundations of building projects - piled
bricks and girders and a gash in the ground left to depress the passerby.
When our grandparents married, nobody except scandalous
divorced. "As long as we both shall live?was no joke. Neither was the
trepidation brides felt on the eves of their wedding days. After their
vows, couples learned to live with each other-- not necessarily because
they loved each other, but because they were stuck, and it was better to
be stuck comfortably than otherwise.
Most of the external pressures that helped to enforce
our grandparents' vows have dissolved. Women can earn money and may enjoy
sex, even, bear children, without marrying. As divorce becomes more
common, the shame attendant on it dissipates. Some divorcees even argue
that divorce is beneficial, educational, that the second' on third or
fifth marriage is "the best". The only reasons left to marry are
love, tax advantages, and, for those old-fashioned enough to care abour
such things, to silence parental kvetching.
In some respects, this freedom can be seen as social
progress. Modern couples can flee the corrosive bitterness that made
night-mares. Dreiser's Clyde Griffiths might have abandbned his Roberta
instead of drowning her.
In other respects, our rapidly-rising divorce rate and
the declining. marriage rate (as more and more couples opt to forgo
legalities and simply Iive together) represent a loss. One advantage of
spending a lifetime with a person is seeing each other grow and change.
For most of us, it is possible to see history in the bathroom mirro--gray
Hairs, crow's feet, yes, but not a change of mind or temperament. Yet,
living with another person, it is impossible not to notice how patterns
change and not to learn - about yourself and about time --from those
Perhaps the most poignant victim of the twentieth
centatry is our sense of continuity. People used to grow up with trees,
watch them evolve from saplings to fruit bearers to gnarled' and
unproductive grandfathers. Now unless one is a farmer or a forester there
is almost no point to planting trees because one is not likely to be there
to enjoy their maturity. We change addresses and occupations and hobbies
and lifestyles and spouses rapidly and readily, much as we change TV
In our grandparents' day one committed oneself to
certain skills and disciplines and developed them. Caipenters spent
lifetimes learning their craft; critics spent lifetimes learning
literature. Today, the question often is not "What do you do?"
but "What are you into?" Macrame one week, astrology the next,
health food, philosophy, history, jogging, movies, EST - we fly from
"commitment" to "commitment" like bees among flowers
because it is easier to test something than to master it, easier to buy a
new toy than to repair an old one.
I feel sorry for what my divorced friends have lost. No
matter how earnestly the former spouses try to "keep in touch,"
no matter how generous the visiting privileges for the parent who does not
win custody of the children, the continuity of their lives has been
broken. The years they spent together have been cut off from the rest of
their lives; they are an isolated memory, no more integral to their past
than a snapshot. Intelligent people, they will compare their next
marriages -- if they have them - to their first. They may even, despite
not having a long shared past, notice growth. What I pray, though, is that
they do not delude themselves into believing, like so many Americans
today, that happiness is only measurable moment to moment and, in the
pursuit of momentary contentment, forsake the perspectives and consolation
There is great joy in watching a tree grow.
2. Kramer vs Kramer
Ted Kramer is a rising young executive in an
advertising firm. He has just been promoted to a new responsible post and
a brilliant career is before him. When he comes home with the happy news,
his wife Joanna announces her decision to leave him. At first he doesn't
take her seriously, thinking it was just a passing mood. He just can' t
imagine why she should want to abandon a comfortable life (he brings in
good money) and a happy family (they have a lovely boy). In all fairness
he has never ill-treated her.
But to Joanna her married life has been an utter
failure -- meaningless fatal hour, Joanna turns up, not to take Billy
away, but to announce her decision to give up her claim to the custody of
her son. She has come to realize how much father and son now mean to each
other and she has no heart to upset their lives again. In sorrow and in
tears all she asks for is a last meeting with her son before she goes out
of their lives forever.
3. Problems Arising from Living Apart
The Chinese household registration system forbids
permanent dwelling without legal registration with the local public
security units. Yet many people leave their hometowns - bringing with them
their residence cards -- to get further education or to join the army, or
because they are transferred to jobs in other places.
The separation of married couples thereby occurs, and
it has become a growing concern in China for the various problems it
causes. Separation can lead to family crisis or divorce. Just as a society
as a Whole requires solidity, a family.demands unity and stability. But
this is exactly what separated couples lack -- as well as the happiness
that comes from living together. As a result, some couples end up
permanently separated and divorced, as emotional ties between husband and
The damage is not confined to the couples alone. The
absence of normal family life can leave the children ill-educated and the
aged uncared for, which can contribute to the instability of the whole
For those living apart (an estimation of 6 million),
the government grants one month paid home leave every year to one spouse.
This equals more than 10 million lost work days, the equivalent of 300,
000 people not working at all each year. In addition to the travel
expenses, this costs the government a total of 2.2 billion yuan a year.
Moreover, these "travellers" add to
congestion in the already overloaded public transportation system.
To end the misery of living apart, some couples
seek.solutions by "back-door" means, by inviting officials to
parties or presenting them with gifts. While some succeed, most couples
meet with frustration. Of the ones who succeed, some fail to find new jobs
that match their skills and specialties.
Unremitting efforts have been made by the government to
ease the problems arising from living apart. Yet, they cannot be solved
cornpletely.. There are several reasons for this.
One obstacle involves job transfers. Most work units
are unwilling to accept administrative personnel, and they do not wish to
hand over the valuable mernbers of their staff to other units. In
addition, most separated spouses who live in large cities dislike moving
to small cities or to the countryside, and southerners do not want to go
to the north.
For another thing, some enterprises hxve become highly
money oriented, demanding steep compensation for training fees from those
who want to quit their jobs. In 1988, 300 to 700 yuan was demanded, but
this fee has risen to 1,000 to 7,000 yuan this year. Similarly, the fee
for those who apply for a new post grew from between 1,000 and 5,000 yuan
last year to between 7,000 and 13,000 yuan early this year, and in some
large cities, the fee runs.as high as 40,000 yuan.
Job mobility should be encouraged and special
consultations should be held for the purpose of exchanging employees in
different parts of the country. Meanwhile, granting job transfers should
not be treated as a good profit-making deal, and people who offer or
accept bribes should be penalized.