In Li Fengjin’s How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up the main character is forced into a marriage with a man that beats her, but she is unable to divorce him because of societal expectations and legal restrictions. But after the New Marriage Law is enacted in 1950, Li Fengjin has the right to divorce Tang Jinrong and marry who she pleases, in this case Gu Shuijin. The Chinese certainly were not aiming for subtle with this one. Li Fengjin is severely beaten many times, and yet those around her continue to insist she stay in her marriage.
When her town is finally “liberated” and the government officials see the error of their ways and come to accept her right to a divorce, Li Fengjin quickly jumps into marriage with the man who helped her escape her former husband. As one governmental official said “Men and women are equal and they should enthusiastically unite and produce in order to construct a new China.” 1 So while women were theoretically free to marry who they wished, they were still very much expected to marry. It’s interesting that both the law and the book are framed as women’s issues. Was there no equivalent pamphlet for men about the impropriety of beating your wife or of purchasing human beings with rice? Was it really “benevolence,” as Gu Shuijin calls it on page32, on the part of the government to grant women the right to escape life threatening situations?
- Li Fengjin’s How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up, 29. ↩