The Recently Revised Marriage Law of China: The Promise and the Reality

By Ogletree, Charles J., Jr.; de Silva-de Alwis, Rangita | Texas Journal of Women and the Law, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Recently Revised Marriage Law of China: The Promise and the Reality

Ogletree, Charles J., Jr., de Silva-de Alwis, Rangita, Texas Journal of Women and the Law


In April 2001, the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC), China's highest legislative body, passed the long-debated and much awaited amendments to the Marriage Law on the closing day of its twenty-first session. As stated by one PRC commentator, "In the 50 years since the founding of the New China, there has not been any law that has caused such a widespread concern for ordinary people."1

Even though the recent revisions to the marriage laws have been hailed as some of the most significant and positive changes in family law in China, thus far no empirical evaluation of the laws' effectiveness in actual practice has been conducted. Our article raises some questions as to the practical effect these revisions will have on women's rights.

We maintain that while the revisions were intended to promote a more equitable system of property distribution for women at divorce and to address violence against women in the family, in reality, women will face major drawbacks in the implementation of these provisions of the law. Unless the gaps in the law and certain obstacles to the implementation of these laws are addressed, the revisions will remain largely symbolic. In our conclusion, we suggest recommendations that will help bring the Marriage Law in compliance with the international standards set out in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as help deliver on the promise of the revisions to the Marriage Law.

I. Introduction

Ms. Z was brutally beaten by her unemployed husband during her marriage to him. . . . If she ever complained to him about his neglect of his family, the beatings became more severe. Due to the battering she received from her husband, she developed severe pulmonary emphysema and was barely able to continue to work to support her family. Once, when returning home early from work, she found her husband in bed with another woman. During the confrontation that followed, Ms. Z was severely beaten and driven out of her home by her husband. Ms. Z filed for divorce and sought custody of their child. During the first trial, the court gave custody of the child to Ms. Z and allowed Mr. Z to remain in the two-bedroom housing unit. Ms. Z was told to find her own accommodations. A legal services lawyer helped Ms. Z appeal the decision. This time, the court ruled that Ms. Z could remain in the apartment's larger bedroom while Mr. Z stayed in the smaller room. What followed was a nighmarish experience for Ms. Z and her daughter. Her ex-husband would frequently kick the door of her bedroom, cursing and swearing in an effort to drive her away. Since this was the middle of the winter, Ms. Z bore the harassment rather than be homeless. Things continued to degenerate in this unusual living arrangement. Mr. Z started letting out his room for prostitution and boasted to the daughter as to how much he made from this trade. The child lived in constant terror of Mr. Z, and she started performing very poorly at school. On occasion, Mr. Z would pursue his ex-wife and daughter with a knife in his hand and once actually wounded Ms. Z. The situation became unbearable, and Ms. Z and her daughter were forced to flee the apartment. The legal services lawyers once again went to court to ask for a readjustment in the living arrangements. After much negotiation with the owner of the apartment, they agreed to give Ms. Z another apartment in exchange for her former bedroom.2

The above case illustrates the plight of a large number of divorced women in present-day China. Despite provisions in the law protecting women's property rights,3 the reality is that property division at divorce will depend largely on the availability of housing units. Frequently, women are faced with the untenable situation of either sharing a bedroom in the ex-husband's apartment or finding themselves homeless.4

On April 28, 2001, the Ninth Standing Committee of the National People's Congress adopted a set of revisions to the 1980 Marriage Law.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Recently Revised Marriage Law of China: The Promise and the Reality


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?