“The feelings between my wife and I were not so harmonious. So [this past summer] we officially divorced,” wrote Huizhong, one of my husband’s xiongdi — male friends so close to him that he refers to them with the Chinese word for “brothers.” Just like that, Huizhong became a new statistic in the rise of divorce rates in China.
I remember attending Huizhong’s wedding in 2005 in rural Hangzhou. John and I squeezed into a jovial table in the corner loaded with Huizhong’s other classmates, where tales of past college shenanigans were as endless as the toasting and ganbei-ing (Ganbei is a Chinese term used in toasting, which is arguably the equivalent of “bottoms up”.). Almost an hour or so passed before Huizhong and his lovely bride — a girl universally declared beautiful for her big brown eyes — graced us with their presence, and everyone cheered when they marched into our back room. Her gorgeous taffeta and tulle gown was studded with pink flowers and designed just perfectly to conceal her slight baby bump, and she looked so stunning that not a person in that room could keep their eyes off her.
But yet, I always thought of Huizhong’s wife as more than just a pretty face. She studied the Chinese classics and ancient texts in college, and had a remarkable combination of smarts and sensitivity to others that, to me, made her the most beloved of all of the wives of John’s xiongdi. John and I long admired her relationship with Huizhong, a seemingly model marriage in China built on love and mutual respect.
Or, so we thought.
But the funny thing is, Huizhong isn’t the only one of John’s xiongdi touched by divorce. Two other close friends have flirted with the idea, including one who came dangerously close to calling it quits back in 2011. Neither John nor I know the circumstances behind Huizhong’s split, and often divorces happen for the better of both people and their families. Still, John reminded me of something that all of his xiongdi have in common — they all hail from rural villages in Zhejiang Province.
“They’re a vulnerable population,” he said to me the other day. “Some are not that rich,” which can, over time, make them less attractive to wives who suddenly realize the “cost” of marrying for love. “But then think of my other xiongdi. He bought his own apartment and a car, but still got no respect from his wife’s family,” who are Hangzhou locals. In major cities in China, many locals still feel a sense of superiority over people from the countryside, which means a person’s status can even complicate an otherwise loving marriage.
Of course, even as divorce rates in China rise, some people still resist the urge to leave. The social stigma of divorce still looms large — I know for a fact that it kept at least one of John’s xiongdi from going through with his divorce, and perhaps the same was true for the other guy.
Huizhong just wedded wife number two this past Saturday. She’s a girl he knew growing up, introduced to him through his relatives — a family connection that must make him feel more confident heading into his second marriage. I raise my virtual glass in his direction, and hope that this union will finally be a marriage that, as the Chinese saying goes, lasts until their hair turns white.
Have your personally experienced the rise in divorces in China? What do you think are the reasons for the rise in divorce?