China's New Family Values

Article excerpt

Unhappy with high divorce rates and too much adultery, Beijing gets ready to launch a sexual counterrevolution

Dr. wang, busy with family and work, waited more than half a lifetime to tango. And when the 56-year-old physician finally stepped out for dance lessons two years ago, he left his wife of 30 years at home. That, Mrs. Wang suspects, is how he met his lover, a 44-year-old teacher with a husband and college-age son. The doctor hid the affair for six months, acknowledged it when his wife confronted him but still devotes his free time--and most of his salary--to his mistress. The Wangs continue to share a bed, but since he took up ballroom dancing, "we don't have husband-and-wife relations," Mrs. Wang laments. "We live apart but in the same room."

Still, Mrs. Wang wants to save her marriage. So, it seems, does the Chinese government. Alarmed by urban divorce rates approaching 25 percent, what they see as rampant infidelity and a younger generation that gleans its values from Hollywood and MTV, Chinese lawmakers are set to approve a new morality code. If passed, the new law will strictly regulate divorce, mandate waiting periods before marriage and make adultery illegal.Now being written by a select group of law experts, the new legislation will probably take effect after the National People's Congress rubber-stamps it next March. Mrs. Wang can hardly wait. "The law should be strict," says the 53-year-old retiree, who asked that her full name not be published. "It should encourage proper behavior."

Beijing has tried to play Big Brother in the bedroom before. After the 1949 revolution, Chairman Mao Zedong imposed strict moral codes that required the masses to dress in unisex fashion, jailed adulterers and gave commune leaders the power to deny marriages. Under Mao's successor, economic reformer Deng Xiaoping, morality codes--and attitudes--relaxed. People trapped in unhappy unions divorced or took lovers. Sex toys appeared in special "health care" centers. Brothels disguised as karaoke bars, massage parlors or beauty salons cropped up across the country. One recent survey showed that 68 percent of university students think premarital sex is "morally okay." On campuses, cohabitation today is common. "The disaster caused by sexual freedom is everywhere," bemoaned the Beijing Youth Daily last month.

In an attempt at damage control, legislators plan to discourage hasty weddings and impose stringent guidelines on divorces. …