Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Remarriage, Gender, and Life Course in Contemporary Inland Rural China

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Remarriage, Gender, and Life Course in Contemporary Inland Rural China

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The 1949-socialist-revolution and the 1978-economic-reform have brought forward great changes to the marriage practices of the Chinese population. Marriage/remarriage freedom has been guaranteed and ensured by the 1950 Marriage Law launched by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and its revisions, including the 1980 Marriage Law and amended versions, especially the 2001 amended version. Among others, a noticeable phenomenon is the dramatic increase of remarriage rates in recent years. According to Wang and Zhou, China's remarriage rate (percentage of remarriages among the individuals who married each year) increased from 3.05% in 1985 to 10.24% in 2007 (2010: 258). Despite the significant increase, remarriage in China has not gained much scholarly attention. Among the limited focus studies, are some which are concerned with the contentious issue of the remarriage of Chinese widows in the pre-1949 period and the question of whether the realization of remarriage constitutes a violation of the socio-cultural taboo (Waltner, 1981; Y. Wang, 1999). More attention, however, has been paid to the remarriage of the current Chinese population. Based on large datasets, some demographers and economists give brief pictures on the trends and regional disparities of remarriage in contemporary China (Wang and Zhou, 2010; Y. Zhang, 2008). Other recent qualitative studies by sociologists pay some attention to the remarriage probabilities and practices of some of the urban Chinese population as a response to devastating natural disasters (Chen et al., 1992); and part of the concerns go to post-remarriage lives, especially the complex social configurations resulting from remarriage, and the social links created by successive marriages (Jin, 2002). While the great majority of these works focus on urban China, remarriage in rural China is an especially neglected research area (Hershatter, 2004).

In contrast to the scarcity of the literature on remarriage in China, from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, western scholars have developed relatively mature theories on the remarriage of western populations, from the past to the present. The economic, social, and cultural imperatives and demographic characteristics of different populations have been examined. Among these works, remarriage probabilities of diverse demographic groups with different age, gender, class, region and religious backgrounds have been at the centre of attention. A consistent concern is: who is likely, or not likely, to get remarried after the end of a former marriage due to divorce or bereavement, or what factors boost/hinder remarriage, and why? These questions have not been systematically applied to the past or the present Chinese populations. At the same time, similar literature on remarriage in other non-westem rural societies is also very scanty.

It is this article's purpose to fill part of the gaps in the scholarship of remarriage, by mainly focusing on the question of remarriage probabilities and practices in contemporary rural China. Remarriages after both divorce and bereavement will be looked into. In order to place the question of remarriage in rural China into a regional and international background, the article refers to existing wisdom on remarriage in rural and urban China, the western countries and other non-westem rural societies, and adopts a comparative framework in which remarriage probabilities and practices across time (the past and the present) and regions (rural/urban; China/non-Chinese societies) are examined. In the interest of explaining the results of comparisons and the discrepancies in remarriage probabilities across time and space, it brings forward questions by referring to a recent quantitative dataset on marriage/ remarriage in China, and reveals the answers by employing a qualitative inquiry on remarriage in an inland Chinese county. This link of both quantitative data and qualitative methods probably makes it the first of its kind. …

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