Imagine that instead of saying “until death do us part” during her wedding vow, a bride says “I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband…but only for seven years!”
While there’s not a single marriage registration office in all of China that would ever endorse such a vow, one popular Shanghai columnist has recently come under fire by netizens for proposing that Chinese marriage certificates should start having a seven-year expiration date.
“In our society, the divorce rate is soaring and more people stay single because of their fear of marriage. It would be better to add a period of validity to marriage certificates. After seven years people could choose to renew their certificates or just give up on the marriage. This will let people not worry about marrying the wrong person anymore,” Lu Guoping wrote on his Weibo.
Lu went on to explain what he deems are six benefits of his proposal: trying different relationships, encouraging more marriages, driving economic growth, reducing the divorce rate, getting women to become more independent and helping people love their children.
Media outlets such as people.com.cn and Wenhui Daily picked up on Lu’s proposal, which quickly went viral. But on social media, most of the comments from Chinese netizens were negative, with many finding it hard to accept a “shelf life” for marriage.
Though it may at first sound absurd, in my personal opinion as a newly married Chinese woman, I find merit in the idea. Using our driver’s license as an example, here in Shanghai we must renew our license every six years. Do drivers just give up driving then? Considering how much gridlock there is in this city, I wish! But the reality is that pretty much everyone renews their license and keeps driving.
So this same logic could be applied to Lu’s proposal. After seven years, if a couple is still happy together, they simply apply for a renewal. But for those who are not, or have been unfaithful, they have the option of amicably parting ways without any messy divorce proceedings.
Continuing with the driver’s license example, in China bad drivers lose points for their infractions and citations; more than 12 points lost means the driver’s license is invalid and drivers have to retake a test on traffic regulations. Perhaps the same concept can be applied to marriages: negative points received by one’s spouse means no renewal is likely.
But the more time a couple successfully renews their marriage, the longer their expiration dates would become. A permanent certificate would be the ultimate reward for those who stay married until old age.
As for divorces, I can’t say if the proposal would have any affect on China’s skyrocketing divorce rate, but I do know that the institution of marriage seems to have little importance among the younger generations of Chinese newlyweds.
The Oriental Morning Post reported that 60,408 couples in Shanghai were divorced in 2013, 37.4 percent more than in 2012. The divorce rate in Shanghai was 0.288 percent in 2013 and 0.222 percent in 2012, but from 2002 to 2009 it was only 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent. Prior to 2002, the divorce rate in Shanghai was less than 0.1 percent.
For happy couples, a seven-year-validity date would not have any impact on their status, but for the unhappy ones, an expiration date would be an easy way out while eliminating divorce from the equation.
The proposal, like marriage itself, is far from perfect. It does not address child support or property and asset ownership, but these variables would force couples to rethink their relationship before getting hitched.
It’s not likely that China’s Civil Affairs Bureau will ever enact Lu’s policy, but the upside to the ensuing dialogue and debate over the proposal is that it has made prospective couples more aware of the problems they are about to face and helped happily married couples take more satisfaction in their achievements.