NOWHERE IS the contrast between pre-Liberation and contemporary China more obvious than in the circumstances under which a young bride enters her new home. In pre-Liberation China, ties to her natal family and village networks were severed when a woman married. For a young woman, having no protection, vulnerable to abuse by her mother- in-law, the only hope of finding allies, as anthropologist Margery Wolf has suggested, was to bear children.1 In post-1949China, the increased possibility of free-choice and companionate marriage, particularly in the cities, made the husband a potential ally. And while a bride still had to forge relations with her husband's family, she was no longer expected to break off ties with her natal family. Women also enjoyed the protection of a marriage law that guaranteed them the right to divorce.
These dramatic changes obscured more subtle continuities. Although most marriages in the 1980's were based on free choice, a woman was still marrying not just a husband, but an entire family as well. Even if she and her husband lived in an apartment of their own, she was considered a member of his family, and was expected to establish congenial relations with his parents and siblings. As in the past, she was the new, potentially disruptive family member, and was therefore often considered the cause of any domestic conflict. Although a woman could maintain ties with her own family, marriage still marked a passage from one set of social networks to another. As constructing a relationship with her husband and his family became more central to a woman's life, she was likely to find herself increasingly excluded from her former circle of female friends. When one of us accompanied a classmate to visit a friend of hers who had just married, the classmate remarked, "She won't be going out with us anymore. Now that she's married, it wouldn't be appropriate to ask her to join us when we plan to do something together." She assumed--and feared--that the same fate was in store for her. And in fact when she did marry several years later, one of her first complaints was that she felt cut off from her former network of women friends. "People treat you differently when you're married," she observed. The social circle of women