China tries to stop women marrying for money, rather than love
With divorce rates soaring, and widespread worries about a new culture of hyper-materialism, the Chinese government is now trying to stop women marrying for money.
In China's booming cities, prospective husbands are now routinely vetted about whether they own a house, and preferably also a car, before a match can be agreed. Tying the knot without a house as part of the deal is jokingly called a "naked marriage" and widely thought to be a risky choice.
"I would choose a luxury house over a boyfriend that always makes me happy without hesitation," said one 24-year-old contestant on If You Are the One, one of China's most popular television dating shows. "And my boyfriend has to have a monthly salary of 200,000 yuan (€21,600)," she demanded.
In a bid to temper the rising expectations of Chinese women, China's Supreme Court has now ruled that from now on, the person who buys the family home, or the parents who advance them the money, will get to keep it after divorce.
"Hopefully this will help educate younger people, especially younger women, to be more independent, and to think of marriage in the right way rather than worshipping money so much," said Hu Jiachu, a lawyer in Hunan province.
The ruling should also help relieve some of the burden on young Chinese men, many of whom fret about the difficulty of buying even a small apartment. China's huge property bubble has driven property prices in Shanghai up to €5,700 per square metre when annual salaries average just €6,800.
"There are more and more girls who want to marry rich men and improve their financial position. It has been a really notable increase," said Wang Zhiguo, a consultant at Baihe, a Beijing-based matchmaking website.
"Most pretty girls now try to trade on their beauty. It is an unhealthy trend and the government is now trying to restrict it," he added.
"Having said that, money has always been an important concern when it comes to marriage. In the 1950s and 1960s, women chased after the top Communist cadres because they were guaranteed a good life. In the 1980s, when the economy opened, businessmen became sought-after.
Chinese people have always been materialistic, but today's hot commodity is property." According to the latest statistics, there were 2.68 million divorces in China last year and divorces have multiplied at almost the same speed as China's economy has grown: by seven per cent a year for the past five years.
In particular, more than a third of all marriages in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou now end in divorce, and the fastest-growing segment of society is those aged 25 to 34. Almost half of all divorces see a court squabble over the family assets.
The growing popularity of divorce runs contrary to traditional Chinese culture, and newly-weds used to be warned on their wedding day that their marriage had to last "until your hair turns white". Just eight years ago, couples still needed written permission from employers or their neighbourhood committee to end a marriage.
"With 5,000 divorces a day, it is an appalling number for Chinese people. Our families are the basic unit of society that maintains stability. The government has had to change the marriage law to keep society stable. Usually the courts now rule, in the first instance, that couples cannot divorce. They have to come back after six months if they insist on one," said Mr Hu.
Chang Xueli, 26, a graphic designer in Beijing is one of the few Chinese women willing to risk a "naked marriage", despite the initial misgivings of her parents. "My husband is from quite a poor family, and I am from quite a well-off family," she said. "My parents tried to set me up with someone with a house, because they wanted the best for me, but I did not have any feelings for them.
"I used to think I had to have both a man I loved and a house to get married. But then I realised sometimes you need to make a choice," she said. "Now I guess the dream is for both a husband and a wife to own a house."