Love on the rocks: Inside China’s marriage counselling boom

SHANGHAI: From a small workplace in Shanghai, marriage counsellor Zhu Shenyong livestreams recommendation over a number of telephones concurrently to an attentive viewers eager to save lots of their relationships.

On his wall hangs the mantra: “Let there be no bad marriages under heaven.” But in the earthly realities of contemporary China, divorce charges are surging, and Zhu’s providers are in excessive demand.

“I always say that Chinese marriage counselling is mostly like treating late-stage cancer,” mentioned Zhu, explaining the majority of his shoppers arrive in “absolute crisis”.

“Only a minority are considering divorce, but want advice on whether it’s the right thing to do,” mentioned the indefatigable 44-year-old, who wears a flat cap throughout his streaming periods.

Earlier this 12 months, Zhu went viral after claiming that he makes 1 million yuan (US$154,000) a 12 months.

Now he pulls as much as 500 viewers every time he goes online, in a mission he describes as to “avoid unnecessary divorces”.

But Zhu can also be a realist who strives to assist {couples} discover the softest touchdown as a relationship breaks up, for the sake of their kids.

READ: Chinese court orders man to pay ex-wife for housework in landmark ruling

The variety of registered divorces in China reached a report 8.6 million in 2020 – nearly double the 2019 whole and eclipsing the variety of marriage registrations for the first time, in keeping with authorities knowledge.

After many years of the “one-child policy”, China faces a stark gender imbalance with 30 million extra males than girls. Coupled with rock-bottom delivery charges, a demographic disaster is looming on the horizon.

Family stress to wed early, the aggressive grind of city life, skyrocketing home costs, insufficient childcare and profession assist for moms: All these are fraying marriages, particularly amongst a youthful era who prioritise private freedom.

Virus Outbreak China Wedding Photo Gallery

A pair has their wedding ceremony photographs taken exterior the Wangfujing church in Beijing on Dec 25, 2020. (File picture: AP/Ng Han Guan)

“From a positive perspective, divorce is a manifestation of civilised society and of women’s awakening,” Zhu mentioned, including affairs and cash issues are additionally prime triggers for divorce.

With the delivery fee nosediving, the Lancet lately predicted China’s inhabitants may halve by 2100, falling behind India and Nigeria.

That has spooked the authorities, which is now encouraging its residents to get married – and keep married.


Lawmakers final 12 months launched a compulsory 30-day cooling-off interval for divorce by settlement, which beforehand may very well be settled inside a day.

The goal was to forestall impulsive divorces, however rights advocates concern it’s trapping girls in abusive marriages as it may be prolonged indefinitely if one aspect refuses to agree.

“The ‘divorce cooling-off period’ has become a ‘divorce abuse period’, which completely deviates from its original purpose,” mentioned Guangzhou marriage lawyer Wang Youbai.

“It’s extremely unfair to sufferers of domestic violence … who are eager to escape from their unhappy marriages.”

Family pressure to wed early, the competitive grind of urban life, skyrocketing house prices and

Family stress to wed early, the aggressive grind of city life, skyrocketing home costs and insufficient profession assist for moms are all fraying marriages. (Photo: AFP/Hector RETAMAL)

COMMENTARY: Couples who stay in unhappy unions for the sake of children may end up harming them

The different methodology, divorce by court docket litigation, normally takes one to 2 years, mentioned Beijing marriage lawyer Yi Yi, with considerably larger prices.

Many Chinese provinces have rolled out state-organised counselling for tens of 1000’s of {couples}, together with newlyweds and marriages on the verge of a breakdown.

In central Wuhan, metropolis authorities attributed the “cooling-off period” to rescuing nearly two-thirds of the marriages of the 3,096 {couples} who utilized for divorce in January alone.

Counsellors are additionally completely stationed in all marriage registry workplaces in Beijing.

China Congress

A pair and their youngster sporting face masks to assist curb the unfold of the coronavirus maintain palms stroll on a road in Beijing, Mar 9, 2021. (Photo: AP/Andy Wong)



But for 36-year-old civil servant Wallace, obligatory mediation periods got here too late to change the course of his divorce.

It was granted by a Shanghai court docket final summer time after a 12 months of pandemic-related delays, ending a three-year marriage which he says failed as a result of interference from in-laws.

“For those who really want to divorce, (mediation) is just a formality,” he mentioned.

Wallace is amongst a rising cohort of Chinese millennials disillusioned with marriage – and of the authorities push to encourage it.

READ: Chinese single mums, denied benefits, press for change

Many of his buddies are preoccupied with moving into marriages, after which escaping them.

Pressures persist -- especially on Chinese women -- to marry young and have children

Pressures persist – particularly on Chinese girls – to marry younger and have kids. (File picture: AFP/Hector RETAMAL)

“Some marry just as a compromise, without having considered whether they can tolerate their partner’s weaknesses.”

He blames Shanghai’s excessive divorce fee partly on what’s regionally often called “involution” – a type of social stagnation in China’s hyper-competitive, status-driven city centres that leaves individuals more and more dissatisfied with their lives.

Wallace now likens marriage to a dangerous wager. “If you know there is a 50 per cent chance of failure, would you still want to speculate?” he mentioned.

Pressures persist – particularly on girls – to marry younger and have kids. But extra Chinese girls are additionally refusing to collapse, with marriage registrations final 12 months falling to their lowest stage in almost 20 years.

For 31-year-old Vivien, who married after a whirlwind romance, divorce isn’t one thing to concern however a path in direction of emancipation.

“Our elders’ mindset is: Divorce means nobody wants you … but my generation thinks it is just a personal choice,” she says.

“We don’t think it’s shameful, but instead admire those who successfully divorce.”


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