Divorce used to be unthinkable and unspeakable in China, but times have changed, divorces are on the rise, divorce lawyers are doing brisk business and estranged couples even hold divorce ceremonies. Yao Minji unties the knot.
Auntie Meng, who works for a neighborhood committee in Fengxian District, divorced her husband in late July, shortly before she turned 48 years old. Then, she invited friends and relatives to celebrate both her birthday and the belated divorce.
"My husband got addicted to mahjong less than a year after we got married and I almost single-handedly raised my daughter. At times, he could be gone for weeks without calling home," school teacher Meng tells Shanghai Daily. She spoke on condition that her first name not be used.
"I've wanted a divorce since 1992, but friends and relatives all asked me to think about my own career and my daughter's future. Children from single-parent homes were discriminated against," she adds. "And I was working as an elementary school teacher. School didn't like divorced teachers educating the pupils."
Since family and harmony are traditionally considered paramount in China, divorce used to be unthinkable, unspeakable, and even in the early 1990s, it was considered neither wise nor practical to get divorced.
Though the rules were unwritten, a career could get stuck if a man or woman were divorced. Parents often told their kids not to play with children from single-parent home because they might be less well-mannered.
Meng's mother worried that she might get transferred to minor administrative postings if she got divorced. The mother even hid the marriage certificate to make sure Meng couldn't find the paperwork for a divorce.
Relatives and friends also tried to convince her by saying, in effect, "After all, it's better to have a not-so-good family than nothing but a little child.
Life would be very hard for divorced women.
Life still isn't easy for divorced women, but they have toughened up, both psychologically and financially, and the society has also become more tolerant. The divorce rate has increased greatly.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs official site reports 2.87 millions Chinese couples got divorced in 2011, up by 7.3 percent from 2010, making the crude divorce rate (the number of divorce cases over the total population) 2.13 per thousand.
In the first quarter of 2012, 536,000 pairs went their separate ways. The numbers for the same period in 2007 was 266,000 pairs, meaning it nearly doubled in only five years.
According to Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, 38,000 couples got divorced last year, making the divorce rate increase by 4.06 percent to over 35 percent.