A Chinese lawmaker is preparing to introduce a bill at the opening of this week’s “Two Sessions,” where the Communist Party meets to draft and pass laws, requiring couples to take government-run marriage “training” classes before their weddings.
China is experiencing surging divorce rates, particularly notable as strict lockdowns against the Chinese coronavirus receded last year, and a decrease in the number of young people seeking to get married. The Communist Party has also expressed concern about the dire state of the country’s birth rate, which has declined even after dictator Xi Jinping legalized having two children per couple in 2015. For decades, the Communist Party allowed couples to have only one child, forcing women into abortions, sterilizations, and infanticides when caught pregnant a second time.
The “Two Sessions” are meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The former is the government’s lawmaking body, which typically passes pro-communist laws without much debate or disagreement. The CPPCC is an advisory body that develops Communist Party messaging and policy to be distributed to local and regional officials.
The “Two Sessions” will take place from March 4 to March 10. In anticipation of the meetings, the Global Times, a state propaganda outlet, is highlighting some of the major proposals that lawmakers expect to discuss with their colleagues. Among those highlighted on Wednesday is one by NPC representative Chen Aizhu of Zhejiang, who will seek to make it illegal to get married in China without Communist Party “training” on how to maintain a healthy marriage.
“Carrying out premarital trainings is to help to improve people’s sense of responsibility to the family, encouraging the new couples to be loyal in marriage and cherish their family, Chen said,” according to the state newspaper. “She suggested that marriage and family associations to organize the trainings among the young people before they walk into a marriage.”
Chen claimed that Chinese youth are “getting more open” in their attitudes towards relationships, which makes them more comfortable with divorce, and that Beijing has a responsibility to reverse that trend. Chen would also advise a “health check” before the couples marry; the Global Times did not elaborate on this point.
China already places strict limitations on marriage generally. As the Global Times noted, couples must wait a 30-day “cooling period” after applying for a marriage license before getting married. Couples may only have a maximum of two children. In December, lawmakers drafted a bill that would limit how much food couples could serve at weddings, part of Xi Jinping’s anti-food waste “Clean Plate” campaign.
The Global Times noted that Chinese “netizens” — or social media users who the government allows to post without arresting them — appeared hesitant to allow the government to “train” couples on how to properly conduct a marriage. Opposing this attitude in the piece is an alleged “expert,” a family lawyer who called Communist Party marriage training “very necessary.” Even this expert warned, however, that mandating training may lead to fewer marriages in general.
“China has seen a continuous sharp drop in the marriage rate and increase in the divorce rate in the past eight years, a report shows,” the Global Times noted. “From 2013 to 2020, the number of marriage registrations fell from a record high of 13.47 million couples to 8.13 million, according to a report by Tsinghua University’s Evergrande Research Institute.”
China saw a spike in the divorce rate after the culmination of draconian lockdown measures, which in cities like Wuhan, where the virus originated, involved welding people shut in their homes. In March 2020, the Global Times observed an increase in divorces in Xi’an, the local capital of Shaanxi province, beginning almost immediately after the marriage registration offices in the city reopened.
“As a result of the epidemic, many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts, adding that the office had been closed for a month, therefore the office has seen an acutely increasing divorce appointment,” an official told the newspaper.
By December, Chinese courts began rejecting divorce requests. In one notorious case, a Shaanxi court rejected a woman’s request to divorce her husband “despite her claims of being constantly beaten and scolded by her husband over the last 40 years.”
“The court told her she should cherish their twilight years and could still be a happy family with forgiveness and better communication,” the Global Times reported. The husband reportedly claimed in defense of his abuses, “it is normal that old couples joke around.”
The nationwide lockdowns to fight the pandemic also appear to have led to a significant decline in an already alarming birth rate. Government officials documented 10 million births in 2020, a 15-percent drop from 2019. In 2016, shortly after the implementation of a two-child policy, the birth rate was 17.86 million babies born.