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 It has since been superseded by the Second Marriage Law of 1980.

Origins[edit]

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]

Implementation[edit]

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]

Impact[edit]

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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