Chinese couples may soon be required to take vows when registering their marriage, a move authorities say will encourage “a sense of ritual.”
According to a guideline jointly published Wednesday by the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the All-China Women’s Federation, obtaining marriage registration certificates — usually done at local civil affairs bureaus — should become “more ceremonial” by including rituals such as exchanging vows in the presence of prominent citizens or government officials as witnesses. Previously, couples only needed to file an application and provide other essential documents in person, with no witnesses required.
Authorities say the suggestions in the new guideline — which aren’t mandatory but strongly recommended — were introduced to preserve the “excellent culture of Chinese families” and develop “people’s ability to form happy families.” However, many online have argued that these so-called rituals won’t automatically become meaningful, and authorities should instead focus on more practical guidelines for building stronger and healthier families.
“What’s the point?” one user wrote under a related post on microblogging platform Weibo. “People will get divorced and married as they wish regardless.”
“Introduce ‘marriage cool-off periods,’” said another, riffing off an unpopular policy under which many divorce-seeking couples are required to wait 30 days for approval. “Then take some premarital tests on how to get along and raise children, and some more tests on the marriage law and the anti-domestic violence law — all of this would be so much more meaningful than this so-called sense of ritual.”
Not everyone rejects the proposal’s aim, however. Some online have endorsed the idea of a more formal ceremony during marriage registrations.
“We finished our registration without exchanging vows or even taking a photo as a couple,” one Weibo user wrote. “The whole process was way too casual.”
Chen Yiyun, who researches marriage and family at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that while she agrees with the intention of the newly issued guideline, the measures won’t effectively address certain issues such as the country’s declining marriage rate and rising divorce rate.
“The new guideline and its formality won’t resolve the current situation,” she told Sixth Tone. “At most, it will leave a vague impression of how a couple got married in the first place, but that’s far from enough.”
Chen believes premarital counseling — briefly mentioned in the new guideline, although not particularly common in China — should be touted as a more important practice for couples to consider.
“We are trained to be teachers, engineers, and essentially everything in this society,” Chen said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be ‘tested’ and ‘trained’ before thinking we are ready to get married.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A couple takes photos after receiving their marriage certificate at the civil affairs bureau in Beijing, May 20, 2020. People Visual)