China’s top legislators on Monday began reviewing potential changes to the country’s civil code. A draft of the code’s general provisions — plus six draft sections on property, contracts, personality rights, family and marriage, inheritance, and torts — were submitted to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in advance of this week’s bimonthly legislative meetings.
The long-anticipated revisions to China’s civil code began with a first draft over two years ago. Many expect them to be approved during March 2020’s “two sessions” — annual meetings of the nation’s top legislative and political advisory bodies.
After a draft version of the civil code was published online Dec. 16, the section on marriage and family was widely discussed on Chinese social media, with a hashtag translating to “marriage law” viewed over 410 million times on microblogging platform Weibo.
Here’s a closer look at five key proposed changes to the civil code’s marriage and family section.
Pre-divorce “cool-off” period
According to last week’s draft, the law may include a controversial clause requiring divorce-seeking couples to wait for a 30-day “cool-off” period. The rule — which was roundly criticized after it was first proposed by the Supreme People’s Court in July 2018 — has reignited a public backlash.
In an August 2018 poll by the All-China Women’s Federation, the country’s state-backed women’s rights organization, 95% of over 240,000 respondents voted against the proposed cool-off period. Around that time, a feminist blogger encouraged netizens to submit official feedback on the National People’s Congress’s website, in a Weibo post that was shared more than 35,000 times.
Women who received public awards for good behavior groom their mothers-in-law in Jiyuan, Henan province, March 8, 2018. Tuchong
Cultivating “good family traditions”
An addition to the marriage and family draft section stipulates that “Families shall establish good family traditions, carry forward family virtues, and attach importance to promoting filial culture,” which includes “respecting the old and cherishing the young.” The document also emphasizes maintaining the family unit in the spirit of “equality, harmony, and civility.”
Some online have interpreted this new wording as a sign that China’s policymakers are eager to reverse the country’s steadily rising divorce rate. “The lawmakers are concerned about family and social harmony due to the current high divorce rate,” a law firm based in the southwestern Yunnan province wrote last week on its public account on social app WeChat.
Family planning downplayed
Following China’s implementation of a so-called two-child policy in 2016, the current civil code draft omits family planning from its marriage law section. The move is consistent with a general shift away from the controversial family-planning policies of past decades that sometimes led to forced sterilizations and abortions.
In March 2018, the State Council announced a major reshuffling of China’s Cabinet that saw some ministerial-level departments created, others abolished, and still others renamed. One example of the latter was the National Health and Family Planning Commission, founded in 2013, being rechristened the National Health Commission — a signal that family-planning policies would not be a top priority for party leadership moving forward.
Spouses must disclose “serious illnesses”
According to the civil code draft, anyone with a “serious illness” is required to disclose it to their partner before getting married. If the sick person fails to do so, their spouse has the option of applying to a local court or marriage registration bureau to have the marriage annulled. (The draft does not elaborate on which illnesses should be considered “serious.”)
There’s also a notable health-related omission in the draft’s section on marriage and family: While the current marriage law says that those who are deemed “medically unsuitable for marriage” should be barred from wedding, this part has been removed in the current draft.
Added, then deleted, clause invalidating marriages with fake IDs
Marriages registered with fake, altered, or incorrect IDs are invalid, according to a proposed addition to the civil code’s marriage and family section.
However, the All-China Women’s Federation posted Monday on Weibo that this newly added policy was potentially on the chopping block at this week’s legislative meetings, prompting backlash from tens of thousands online who interpreted the rumored backtracking as a tacit approval of fraudulent marriages. “What if someone takes my ID to register their marriage in my name?” read one representative comment accompanying the post.
In a follow-up post the same day, the women’s federation tried to temper the fervor, quoting a professor from Jilin University who explained that the clause’s removal did not equate to tolerance of fraudulent marriages. “An annulment should be a consequence for someone who violates the conditions of getting married, including failing to reach the legal age for marriage,” the professor said, seeming to suggest that a small mistake — such as accidentally submitting an incorrect birthdate — should not later be used by a disgruntled spouse as grounds for an annulment.
After the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress meetings conclude Friday, a final draft of the civil code is expected to be submitted for approval at next year’s two sessions.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Tuchong)