China's Marriage Law: a model for family responsibilities and relationships

Fam Process. 1982 Dec;21(4):477-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1982.00477.x.


China's Marriage Law of 1981 is presented with a brief commentary. The law encompasses the responsibilities of spouses, parents, children, grandparents, and siblings to one another. The new law is contrasted with the 1950 Marriage Law, which prohibited such feudal practices of former times as arranged marriages and child betrothals. The 1981 law is concerned with equality and the lawful needs of women, children, and the aged. Family planning is encouraged. Divorce is made easier to obtain. Adoptees and stepchildren are provided for. The law provides a legislative model for personal relationships.

PIP: The People's Republic of China promulgated a new national marriage law in January 1981. The law replaces the previous marriage law of 1950, effective the year following Liberation. The new law reflects massive changes that have occurred in relations between men and women since Liberation as well as the most recent concerns about the 10 year Cultural Revolution that drew to an end in 1976. The law represents a legislative attempt to establish a model for interpersonal relationships among China's population of more than 1 billion. The 1950 law aimed at correcting many of the practices of the previous feudal society. It prohibited concubinage, child betrothal, and interference with the remarriage of widows and emphasized free choice of partners, monogamy, equal rights of both sexes, respect for the old, and care of the young. After the 1950s, other national priorities took attention away from the new law. The 10 years of the Cultural Revolution were a chaotic period that led to a lessening of moral standards and a reassertion of old ideas and customs. The 1981 marriage law provides a model for the responsibilities of family members to each other and a guide for their relationships. Among the old problems addressed in the new law is that marital arrangements are often still interfered with by parents. It is not unusual for the girl's family to extort money and gifts from the man's family as a precondition of marriage. In parts of the countryside, women are abused, even to a serious extent. From discussions conducted in 1981 with representatives of the Women's Federation, it became evident that since they had resumed activity in 1978, they have been focusing on encouraging women to achieve equality in the workplace as a way of achieving equal status in marriage and the family. The main pains in the new law concern the lawful rights and interests of women, children, and the aged. Family planning is also included. The minimum age for marriage is raised to 22 for the man and 20 for the woman, although in practice even later marriage is encouraged. Late marriage and late childbirth are emphasized as part of China's attempt to limit its population growth. The new law also makes divorce easier to obtain. Now divorce should be granted when there is complete alienation of mutual affection and when mediation has failed. China's marriage law, passed at the Third Session of the National People's Congress on September 10, 1980, and promulgated January 1, 1981, is presented in its entirety.

MeSH terms

  • Adoption
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • China
  • Divorce / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Family
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Legislation as Topic*
  • Male
  • Marriage*
  • Pregnancy
  • Women's Rights