Chinese mark new year with a rash of divorces

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The Independent Online

The Chinese New Year marks the time of year when families are reunited, children honour their parents by cleaning their homes from top to bottom – and then consider divorce. An explosive mixture of family rivalries and demographic fault lines caused by China's one-child policy has sparked an increase in marriage break-ups, according to new figures.

Officials in the eastern city of Nanjing have reported a rise in the number of divorces filed in the run-up to the Spring Festival celebrations. They have attributed the increase to disputes about whose parents couples should spend the holiday with, the WantChinaTimes website reported.

Last year, there were 1.96 million divorces in China, according to data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and the number of divorces is rising quickly as massive social change takes its toll on traditional family structures.

The one-child policy, which was introduced in the late 1970s, has created a generation which has gained the most from the three decades of economic growth. But that generation is also often criticised for being spoilt.

The impact of the policy has led to around 100 million only children in China. It means that tens of millions of parents in China are forced to celebrate the Lunar New Year event – by far the biggest celebration in China's annual calendar – on their own.

Traditionally, children are expected to return to their home towns to mark the festival, and when they arrive, they shower their parents with lavish gifts and clean the parental home. The pressure to return can be overwhelming.

Zhu Xiaomin and her husband Chen Jun decided to split after three years of marriage because they could not compromise about where they would go to celebrate the occasion. Ms Zhu, who comes from central China's Jiangsu province, said she had no idea before her marriage that visiting parents would become such a big issue for Mr Chen, whose hometown is in the northern province of Shandong.

"Since it's the same problem every year, why not simply split up?" said Ms Zhu, even though a judge found that the young couple's relationship was fine except for this annual dilemma.

The issue is widely discussed online. One lawyer, surnamed Li, married his college girlfriend of five years in 2010, but as soon as Chinese new year came around, they quarrelled over whose family they would visit.

"This is our first fight, and I've never thought about we would quarrel about this problem," said Mr Li, who comes from Sichuan, while his wife is from Hebei. Once they were married, both wanted to visit their respective parents.

Eventually the wife agreed to visit the husband's parents but the compromise meant there was "almost no talking and smiling during the vacation at the Li family home".

Wang Jin, who married two years ago, hasn't been back for Chinese new year since her marriage, but this year went on her own.

"I miss my parents and my grandmother, they are eager to see me! Although my mum is not so happy that my husband will not go back with me this year after such a long time, I really do not want to fight with my husband about this, and I hate to fight with my mother-in-law," she said.