Last Sunday, a man was prosecuted under a controversial Mao-era law, originally conceived to prevent military spouses from straying.
The man, surnamed Zhang, hails from Beijing and reportedly lived with a soldier’s wife for two months, according to the Beijing Morning Post. The court found Zhang guilty of “destroying a military marriage” — a crime introduced during the early 20th century to encourage army spouses to be faithful while their partners were away at war — and sentenced the man to seven months in prison.
According to Han Xiao, a lawyer at Kangda Law Firm in Beijing, before the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Communist Party devised a series of rules — including “the crime of the destruction of military marriage” — to prevent soldiers from being betrayed by their left-behind spouses.
“These rules were used to motivate soldiers in wars, and it worked well,” Han told Sixth Tone.
Despite the fact that the law was conceived almost a century ago, and China is no longer actively at war, the rule has found its way into modern legislation. Civilians who intentionally marry or cohabit with a soldier’s spouse face a maximum of three years’ jail time.
During a large-scale revision of the nation’s Criminal Law in 1997, and later amendments from 1999 to 2015, the law was not only kept, but expanded. With the inclusion of a new clause, it was now easier to prosecute under rape law those who exploited their position of power to coerce the wife of a soldier into sex.
“The law is an effective way right now to guard soldiers’ marriages before a better solution comes along,” said Fu Jian, a lawyer at Yulong Law Firm based in Henan province. “But the law can’t fundamentally solve the problem,” he added.
Fu thinks a more sustainable approach would be to work out more flexible policies to allow military personnel to live with their spouses.
In China, members of the armed forces have little time to spend with their partners. For example, a military couple living in different places may only see each other for 30 to 40 days each year.
In such trying circumstances, it’s natural for marriages to be put under strain, Fu said. However, the law is clear that the “marriage destroyer” must be aware that the spouse is married to a member of the military, or else the person cannot be found guilty.
“A key way to judge a case is by whether the person who breaks up the marriage continues to act after he or she knows that the seduced party is married,” said Han. “The law won’t apply to a situation where it’s the soldier’s spouse who hides the fact of the marriage.”
(Header image: A border guard and his bride salute each other during their wedding ceremony in Dongguan, Guangdong province, July 31, 2015. Liao Jian/VCG)