Chinese netizens are rallying to the defense of a woman surnamed Zhan whose ex-husband — a high-flying academic educated at China’s top university — reportedly left her alone and penniless after talking her into a sham divorce.
In a video published by digital media platform Pear Video last week, Zhan claims that her ex-husband, a man surnamed Fang, lured her into a 2016 divorce under the pretext of securing an enviable residential status for their newborn son in Beijing, promising to remarry her after the process was complete. But instead, he wed another woman — a plot familiar to Chinese audiences through the Fan Bingbing film “I Am Not Madame Bovary.”
Fang and Zhan, both from eastern China’s Jiangxi province, met in 2013. They married the following year on May 19, a date that in Chinese sounds like the phrase “I want this to last.” Fang reportedly holds a Ph.D. from nationally renowned Peking University (PKU), leads an unnamed Inner Mongolia-based research institute, and was honored as a model worker in Baotou, the city where he works.
In September 2016, Zhan gave birth to a son. Two months later, Fang suggested that the couple file for a fake divorce.
Chinese divorce rates are increasing, but not all breakups are due to breakdowns in relationships. Recent years have seen the rise of so-called fake divorces, in which a couple agrees to split up for material benefits, often promising to remarry at a later date. Depending on the case, divorcées may be able to freeze or write off debts, collect extra compensation payments if their homes are listed for demolition, or — most commonly — circumvent government restrictions on inner-city home purchases.
However, fake divorces can leave one or both partners disappointed. “From a legal standpoint, if you go to a marriage office and register a divorce, that divorce is genuine,” says Shi Fulong, a divorce lawyer based in central China’s Hunan province who has advised several couples on fake divorces. “For that reason, it’s very difficult for one party in a fake divorce to guarantee their rights and interests. If the other person intends to deceive you, you basically have no recourse.”
In Zhan’s case, Fang told her a divorce would allow their son to inherit his residency status in Beijing, which would entitle the child to a higher standard of education, health care, and social welfare. Zhan says she had no reason to disbelieve her husband, so the couple divorced in late 2016.
The settlement left Zhan no right to their shared property, wealth, or child custody, even though she had previously loaned Fang’s parents 100,000 yuan ($16,000) to buy an apartment and continues to look after their son in Beijing.
But late last year, after Fang secured his son’s residency in the capital, he shocked his ex-wife by saying he had no intention of remarrying her, Zhan claimed. Not only that, but Zhan discovered through scouring her mother-in-law’s chat history that Fang had since married another woman, who was apparently three months pregnant with his child.
Zhan told Red Star News that she hopes for compensation from Fang and legal custody of their son. Fang has resigned from his position at the research institute, citing an inability to work. He told media that some of his ex-wife’s claims are incorrect, but he declined to comment further out of consideration for his son.
News of Fang’s perceived fickleness drew condemnation on Chinese social media, where a hashtag on microblogging site Weibo had attracted nearly 22 million views by Friday afternoon. “People tend to have high expectations of PKU students,” Shi, the divorce lawyer, told Sixth Tone. “This kind of behavior can rapidly destroy people’s moral expectations of them.”
Fang’s high social position and “semi-official” status through his awards likely deepened public revulsion toward his acts, Shi concluded.
On Weibo, one user wrote, “Your life today is based on the trust your ex-wife placed in you to gamble with your newborn son’s future,” and received nearly 30,000 likes. “There are too many men like this around nowadays. They’re smart and cunning, and able to profit from society thanks to their self-serving personalities.”
“Hooligans aren’t scary — unless they’re educated,” quipped another user.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: A woman waits outside a divorce office at the civil affairs bureau in Shanghai, March 8, 2013. Zhang Xinyan for Sixth Tone)