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March 6, 2014

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Flash: It’s no longer till death do us part

“Flash marriage” and “flash divorce” are becoming more common, according to the latest Shanghai statistics.

Emily Zhang and her husband Richard Chen, both 25, just ended their 3-month marriage. It was less than six months from the day they met to the day they divorced.

“Maintaining a marriage is too hard. With all that money needed to pay the rent and bills, I don’t have a dime to take a break and relax with my friends,” says Zhang, who works at a small private enterprise (of interior design) in Shanghai.

She earns 4,000 (US$650) a month, but the rent takes 3,200 yuan. Her husband didn’t have a stable job. They quarreled endlessly, even over tiny matters.

Chen, the ex-husband, has been back to his hometown in Zhejiang Province.

Zhang and Chen are among an increasing number of young urban people who decide to marry in haste — often without knowing each other (or themselves) very well — and then swiftly divorce when they realize they are not compatible. These brief unions may last less than a year, or even for just a few days.

They epitomize the saying “marry in haste, regret at leisure,” but these young people have no patience or leisure.

Shan hun (ÉÁ»é) or flash marriage and shan li (ÉÁÀë) or flash divorce are popular buzzwords in a society that has traditionally valued marriage until death and frowned upon divorce. Pressure to marry and start a family is intense.

Divorce rates among young couples have been rising rapidly.

In Shanghai, 60,825 couples divorced last year, an increase of 38.3 percent from 2012, according to statistics released last Friday by Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

The rising divorce rate is partly attributed to the tighten-up housing policy in which one family with a child younger than 18 years old can only buy one apartment.

According to Huangpu District People’s Court, the average length of marriage among post-1980s divorced couples is three years in the recent three years. And the 2012 statistics released by Yangpu District Marriage Registration Center, among 3,433 divorced couples, 17.68 percent last only a year and 30 percent were younger than 30 years old.

Zhang and Chen married secretly, since their parents would never have agreed to a flash marriage. They locked her in the room but Zhang escaped and stole her family’s hukou or household registration certificate required for marriage.

Zhang says she had never thought two young people would have a problem living on their own.

Inadequate understanding of each other is the main reason many young couples get a divorce. Further, young people are less tolerant and more selfish in their relationships, according to Huangpu District People’s Court.

10 years mean nothing

“Till death do us apart,” wealthy Shanghai businessman Eric Wang vowed to his wife at their wedding feast. This would be different from his first marriage two years ago, thought the 33-year-old from Jiangsu Province.

Wang was born into a poor family and attended a polytechnic school where he met his first wife surnamed Zhu. They had lived together for more than 10 years and she always supported him as he struggled to succeed. He completed a master’s degree and opened a trading company in Shanghai; Zhu was at his side.

Under pressure from both sets of parents to marry, they wed in 2012, but it was a formality and though they had known each other for years, there wasn’t real love.

“Marriage for me was pure responsibility and I felt I owed her a lot; there was no reason not to marry,” Wang says. They got a marriage certificate, but there was no celebration, not even a small one, and there was no wedding gown, no wedding photos.

“I couldn’t be devoted or excited at all in this marriage,” he says.

They divorced in less than half a year.

“People should have a more serious attitude toward marriage and not make an arbitrary choice,” says psychologist Feng Yalan from East China Normal University. “It’s not really about how many days you have known each other, or months or years. But you need to decide deliberately to work on marriage together with your partner.”

Chinese traditionally consider a partner’s social rank, profession, education status, financial status and financial prospects, property ownership, parents’ position, as well as height and appearance. Parental suggestions and approval are important.

Love is important as well and for some young people it’s all important. If you’re in love you can marry; if you decide you’re no longer in love, you can divorce. It’s much easier than in the past.

Devotion, tolerance

Last Wednesday, a local bus driver surnamed Lu discovered a package on the bus when he was doing cleaning — it was a set of new wedding photos, according to a news report. When the driver finally contacted the bridegroom a few days later, the man told him the couple had already divorced and he had discarded the photos, like rubbish, on the bus.

“Marriage can’t just rely on passion. If you want to maintain a marriage, both sides need devotion, tolerance and a willingness to solve grievances and conflict rationally,” says Feng.

Wang met his wife on a famous dating TV show in Shanghai. They clicked. They married a month later in November, 2013.

Today they have a 3-month-old child and married life is pretty good.

“I never thought our ‘flash marriage’ would be a problem,” says Wang, general manager of a small private enterprise. “Of course we have some conflicts and uncomfortable moments with our partner’s personalty, especially since we are both single child. But it will pass. There is no couple that is born to be, they need time to gradually understand each other.”

While insisting on marriage, many parents also insist that it’s better to date for a year or more. “That gives you enough time to know each other,” says Li Shao, who has a 30-year-old married son.

“I especially dislike the term shan hun,” says sociologist Gu Xiaoming, a retired professor at Fudan University. “It’s an insult to the love of young people. And parents have no business in intervening.”

“In this society, it is easier to get sex than love,” Gu observes. “So why not seize the opportunity when love comes along. Like cherry blossom time, it is so beautiful but when you miss the time, it’s utterly gone.”


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