New China Marriage Law: Patriarchy and Property
On the September 8 edition of the CCTV program “Dialogue” the new Chinese marriage laws passed by the supreme court of China were discussed. New interpretations of China’s marriage laws that came into effect in August have caused controversy in the former Socialist state. China’s supreme court has ruled that property bought before marriage either outright or on mortgage reverted to the buyer upon divorce. (Previously it was considered joint property.) Such an interpretation has ignited debate as to whether or not the new policy was discriminating against woman.
This means that women in a marriage that has been ended are going to be deprived of homes because the cultural tradition of China means the man and his family provide the house for the couple while women shoulders more of the responsibility for taking care of it. The anchor of the program Tian Wei asked if the policy was sexist or was it intended to make marriage more about true love. She also declared the programs intention to discuss whether or not it will affect the increasing social stress in the country.
Here are some of the changes to the laws:
A house bought by the parents and registered under their child’s name remains the personal property of the child after the child gets married.
Houses bought on mortgage by one party, prior to the marriage, are to be deemed as the personal property of the registered owner, rather than the joint estate of the couple.
China’s marriage laws have been changed a few times. First, during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, women were granted equal rights to men when it came to divorce proceedings. It also gave women the legal ability to even initiate a divorce as well as have the legal right to keep custody of the children. The second writing of the law came in 1980 under the Deng Xiaoping regime as the country orientated back towards capitalism. This rewriting was geared towards the private legal ownership of property, as property was no longer being held in common. This third alteration to the marriage law is no doubt intended to favour the wealthier of the couple, this being the male the vast majority of the time. This is made even more discriminatory when one takes into consideration that it is tradition that the groom and his family that pays for the home. This guarantees that the women receives nothing upon divorce.
The host asked Luka Lu, a Partner from Capital Associates, about what the timing of this new interpretation means. Lu stated that it was probably due to the increase in housing prices. The real estate bubble in China has been growing since the 2008 economic collapse and those prices have sent many of the urban poor and working class into the streets as affordable housing is becoming increasingly unavailable.
It was also discussed what the role of a marriage law should have. Should it be about protecting marriages or should it be about making sure properties are shared or not shared at all after a divorce.
Luka Lu said that the law no doubt places the power in marriage in the hands of the husband. Since not only commonly in the city, but greatly so in the countryside, the husband and his family pays for the home. This places the power completely in the husband. Often times this advantage the man has is used as a threat against the wife. He’ll leave her if she doesn’t do what he wants. In a divorce she’ll have a great disadvantage because she won’t have a place to live. This also discriminates against women in the field of child custody, a judge is far more likely to award custody to the parent which has a home in which to house the children. This new policy seeks to re-enforce a patriarchal power structure.
Eniar Tangen, a Biz Times Columnist and Author, disagreed with Lu’s assessment. Instead he argued that this new policy would push women to become more financially independent before getting into a marriage. His belief is that this new policy would encourage women strive for a better economic position in society and is supposed to warn them against being a house wife.
This statement is almost laughable. The idea that simply creating laws in favour of those who already hold a disproportionate amount of power will encourage those with less to “try harder” is ridiculous. How is a woman supposed become as financially independent and stable as a man when it is already acknowledged that women are paid less than men? Women are already given less access to greater paying employment than men. This will not supposedly incentivise women to become more financially independent. It will do the opposite. It will take an already disadvantaged position and make it worse through legal power.
The fact is, this new interpretation of the law is nothing more than the protection of property. To try and disguise it as anything else is simply a ridiculous farce. Battles over property occur because of inequality. Situations such as these were virtually unheard of in Revolutionary China. Under socialism all were guaranteed homes, it was never necessary to fight over who keeps a place to live. This is just more proof of China’s turn towards capitalism.
The actual CCTV Dialogue program can be viewed here.