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    Why a New Women’s Law Has China Debating Property Rights

    Starting June 1, Fujian province will allow women to legally access their partners’ property details without lengthy court proceedings. Critics argue the law favors women, but officials assert it does not infringe on men's rights.

    Amid longstanding concerns over spouses hiding or misappropriating jointly-owned property, a new landmark law in eastern China’s Fujian province will soon allow women to legally access their partner’s property details without the need for lengthy court proceedings.

    The regulation — the first of its kind at the provincial level in China — is set to take effect on June 1. It states that women, using marriage licenses or other valid documents verifying a marital relationship, can legally inquire about their partner’s property.

    Previously, inquiries about a spouse’s property were cumbersome and time-consuming, and could begin only after initiating a lawsuit or divorce proceedings, followed by a month of mediation before the case was officially filed. Individuals then had to submit a property inquiry request and await approval for the investigation order — a process that often took months to complete.

    The new law quickly resonated on social media, sparking a national debate over its unilateral nature. Critics argue that it unfairly empowers only women, thus undermining the principle of equality under the law. A widely shared comment on the microblogging platform Weibo captured the sentiment: “Spouses should be able to check on each other for equality. Honesty is the bottom line for both spouses. It should not be a privilege for one side.”

    While lauding the new law’s focus on gender equality in property rights, an editorial by the Shanghai-based news outlet The Paper argued that the legislation should also grant men equivalent investigatory rights. “Advocates hope that this legislation will set a precedent, potentially leading to similar rights for husbands becoming national law in the future,” it stated.

    In response to the heated debate, officials involved in drafting the regulation were compelled to clarify their stance. Speaking to Red Star News, officials explained that the regulation is designed to “emphasize women’s equal property rights with men and does not infringe upon men’s rights.”

    Han Xueming, a senior partner at Fidelity Law Firm in Fujian and a member of the Xiamen Marriage, Family, and Wealth Succession Professional Committee, asserted that much of the debate stems from public misunderstanding. “Given that this is a regulation for the protection of women’s rights, it naturally emphasizes the rights of women,” she told Sixth Tone.

    “Though not explicitly stated, the right for both parties to check for property is supported by the Civil Code since the inquiry pertains to marital common property. Civil law includes a principle that ‘what is not prohibited by law is permitted.’”

    She also underscored that the law is specifically designed to protect vulnerable groups, particularly in situations where men traditionally hold the dominant financial role.

    “Often, more property is registered under the husband’s name, and during divorce proceedings it’s common for both parties to attempt to transfer properties for profit to some extent,” she said, adding that men often have a greater advantage in concealing properties. “This is especially true in Fujian’s traditional culture, where there is a deep-seated bias toward men over women.”

    Han believes the ability to check a partner’s property provides women with a crucial safeguard during relationship struggles. “Without this right, women are unsure how to proceed,” she said.

    “They will also consider whether they can survive financially after the divorce, especially if they have children to take care of. Resorting to litigation can strain relations further, and if she discovers that there are no assets upon investigation, this can lead to immense pressure.”

    According to Han, the new regulation also reduces the cost and complexity for women to assert their rights. Instead of hiring a lawyer or a costly litigation process, women can now simply use their marriage certificate to make inquiries.

    Prior to Fujian’s new regulations, cities such as Jinan in the eastern Shandong province and Jiangmen in the southern Guangdong province had also implemented measures allowing one party of a couple to inquire about property status with valid documents. They were included in the women’s protection guidelines introduced in 2011 and 2012, respectively, with Jiangmen setting a five-year limit on its regulation.

    Meanwhile, the scope of Fujian’s new regulation is geographically limited. Han notes that if the property is registered in a province outside Fujian, local laws will still apply.

    She also pointed out several challenges in implementing the law effectively. For instance, in some cities, property inquiries can only be conducted based on the property’s location, not the individual’s name or ID number. Han says, “This poses a contradiction. The purpose of such inquiries is to discover if the other party has secretly purchased property, and where it is located.”

    Additional reporting: Li Dongxu; editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: VCG)