New Marriage Law

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The New Marriage Law (also First Marriage Law, Chinese: 新婚姻法; pinyin: Xīn Hūnyīn Fă) was a civil marriage law passed in the People's Republic of China on May 1, 1950. It was a radical change from existing patriarchal Chinese marriage traditions, and needed constant support from propaganda campaigns. It has since been superseded by the Second Marriage Law of 1980.


Marriage reform was one of the first priorities of the People's Republic of China when it was established in 1949.[1] Women's rights were a personal interest of Mao Zedong (as indicated by his statement: "Women hold up half the sky"),[2] and had been a concern of Chinese intellectuals since the New Culture Movement in the 1910s and 1920s.[3] Traditionally, Chinese marriage had often been arranged or forced, concubinage was commonplace, and women could not seek a divorce.[1]


The new marriage law was enacted in May 1950, delivered by Mao Zedong himself.[1] It provided a civil registry for legal marriages, raised the marriageable age to 20 for males and 18 for females, and banned marriage by proxy; both parties had to consent to a marriage. It immediately became an essential part of land reform as women in rural communities stopped being sold to landlords. The official slogan was "Men and women are equal; everyone is worth his (or her) salt".[4] As a result of yearly propaganda campaigns from 1950 to 1955 to popularize the law, more than 90% of marriages in China were registered, and thereby were considered to be compliant with the New Marriage Law.[5]


China's divorce rate, though lower than in the Western countries, is increasing. Chinese women also have increased financial importance in the household.[6] Some contemporary critics argue that the New Marriage Law has made the nature of marriage in China more materialistic.[7]

Second Marriage Law[edit]

The New Marriage Law was updated in 1980 by the Second Marriage Law, which liberalized divorce,[7] introduced the one-child policy, and instructed the courts to favor the interests of women and children in property distribution in divorce. Further updates in 1983 legalized marriage with foreigners and interracial marriage.[1] It was amended in 2003 to outlaw married persons' cohabitation with a third party, aimed at curbing a resurgence of concubinage in big cities.[7]

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