Another Friend, Another Divorce in China

Divorce in China is on the rise, and John and I felt that increase among our friends, including Huizhong (photo source:

“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?

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37 Replies to “Another Friend, Another Divorce in China”

  1. his topic has been in the newspaper (Shanghai Daily) of late, in particular with the post 1980’s generation who have one of the highest divorce rates in China. The “experts” claim it has a strong bearing with the 1 child policy…..meaning that 1 child has been raised in a manner where they are not accustomed to sharing, compromising, give and take, acknowledging, being grateful or thankful to others (some will say spoilt).

    There are stories about broken marriages due to excess hair being found in the plug hole, and a story of a young couple who divorced due to a dog ( the girl and dog grew up together so they did everything together and when the girl met the boy and started dating him her life with her dog did not change . The story goes on to say that the dog was allowed to sleep on the bed and when the husband tried to get into bed the dog would start growling at him). Frustration led to arguments not only between the young couple but also between the mothers , eventually this led to a divorce.

    In China there are some who marry for love but many marry for other conveniences…..they know that love cannot sustain a marriage on its own.

  2. Careful with the term “xiongdi” (兄弟) outside China. In Taiwan, if you use it, you’re implying a gangster-like brotherhood. Certainly you can use it just to mean “friends as close as brothers”, but there is a very heavy implication that you’re in some sort of mafia organization or gang together, too.

  3. You always have to be comfortible with what you have. Don’t compare with your relatives , friends , co-workers! This kind of attitude will only destroy your marriage. When you can’t get rich , you really can’t get rich no matter what you do. Sometimes, you really have no ways out but turn to illegal activities like drug trafficing/smuggling goods etc. You can be a very rich person and you will still face divorce issues.

  4. Chinese people get married very fast after a divorce. Your parents , friends and relatives will encourage you to find another woman/man very soon ..

  5. I don’t know how people get this idea that Chinese get remarried quickly. It’s a silly assumption. It really depends on your social circle. My parents used to discourage me from hooking up with divorcees. Their ideal daughter-in-law would be somebody a few years younger than me, never married, highly educated like myself, never had kids, has light skin and good complexion, not too tall and not too short, not too skinny and not too chunky. and both her parents must be alive. If I had listened to them, I would still be single.

  6. After reading this story, I wonder if the famous 安排 AKA arranged marriages can also be considered a big factor in chinese divorces… (I unfortunately lived that situation where my ex-beau used the arrangement from the parents as an excuse for splitting up). Of course knowing how obedient children are to parents, a lots of people will not marry for love and instead obey and marry the “best interest” found by the parents… Clearly in Huizhong’s story the second wife should have perhaps been the only one…. hopefully the society will slowly evolve and les and less cases of divorce will occur for trivial reasons….
    And I also wish for Huizhong and his new wife 百年 嘻嘻!!

  7. I can see how Huizhong’s family would want him to re-marry again so quickly. My personal view, though, is that many Chinese marriages (not all, I know there are exceptions) end up in divorce because people rush into marriage without really knowing the person. Sometimes it works out because people spend their entire lives not knowing their significant other anyway, but I think you should see the person in different situations and with different groups of people before committing to a lifetime with that person.

  8. So many things pop into my mind when I read this post, Jocelyn:
    — The current generation of young people’s parents grew up during the cultural revolution. That was an entire lost generation that did not have an opportunity to develop their EQ. Many of them did not marry for love and do not know how to love. Their kids didn’t have good examples to follow.
    — Being a Chinese person living in China comes with an inherent sense of insecurity, both socially and economically. With this insecurity, marriage becomes more utilitarian, and marrying for love is a luxury. (remember the four big items? now it’s a condo within the third ring, and it will probably cost 500k USD)
    — The one-child policy created many little emperors and empresses. Now they are getting married and divorced.
    — Divorce rate usually goes hand in hand with economic growth. When people have more money, divorce has less impact on their well being.

  9. MONEY WILL NOT BUY HAPPINESS ALL THE TIME! Money will only make your marriage better. Having this connection with your husband/wife is more important than money from my points of view and almost all of my friends except for some other sissies. You need and want someone who can endure good and bad times with you. Yes, date that person for a while and ask some crucial questions and get honest answers. Q’s : ” I don’t have much money now, are you willing to stay with a poor guy like me and build wealth together? ” or ” I’m well off now ( rich) but I might be poor in the future. WIll you still stay with a poor like me? ” Get honest answers and FEEL what she says if it is from her heart or just sugar coating her answer. YOu also need a person who has his/her own mind and not get influenced by families, friends , co workers etc. You need a person who only buy what you can afford and not chase after materialistic items that you can’t afford yet . Most women eyes will almost pop out of their eye sockets when they see men with money, exotic cars ( porche, Ferr…Limb..) and big homes but they don’t know what their lives will be like once they are with those men. Many of those women are not even happy with these kind of men in general. I do know a few women who are married to these kind of men. Not very happy. I feel like what I say is useless here. Well, you have to go thru life and then you will FEELLLLL MY THOUGHTS.


  10. I know a friend here who is extremely successful with his business . He is in his early 40’s and have never been married before. He said if he asks a woman to marry him, she will say yes instantly; however, he is very cautious on searching for his soulmate. He said all those women are beautiful. He is well off and I like him for his traditional values that no matter what happens, the woman has to stick with him until their hair turns gray :). I have that same belief ,too, but how many people have that same belief like me and my friend here? During good times, we can have KOBE beef for dinner and for bad times, we can settle with pickled cabbage and rice :). When you make money, you laugh all the way to the bank, but now when you’re not making money, you want to kick each other to the curb. This is not called wisdom at all !! This is the fundamental foundation of relationship/marriage. Without these values, what is the difference between a parasite sucking off the host dry and leaving to another host.. What is the different between a gigaloo/hooker and a parasite?


  11. Arranged marriage actually has lower divorce rate (many possible factors). Introverts also have lower divorce rate. Introverts also have more arranged marriage too.

  12. I was talking to a middle aged white couple in Indiana who were concerned that their son is dating a Japanese-American woman from CA. “Even for same race couples divorce rate is high” they said. My answer was very simple: There is only one way to assure you will never get divorced, legally that is. If you never get married you will never get divorced!

  13. “Arranged marriage actually has lower divorce rate (many possible factors). ”

    Lower divorce rates but steadily increasing at least in South Asia.

  14. “Some” women and men are not fitted to get married. Ask yourself why? Well, you two don’t compromise at all. “Some” men/women only like to hear sweet things and only good stories. Some men will just sit on their ass , play video/internet games, won’t put clothes in washer to wash, won’t prepare meals for family when wives are sick etc. Everybody expects to get married but marriage is alot of work and it’s not suitable for anybody. You just have to control each other on living the lifestyle that you can’t afford. Most men/women will buy Mercedes benz when they can’t afford it. Living paycheck by paycheck driving a Mercedes . Will that prove to others that you’re rich? You are not rich. You are just a “Hollow shell crab” = looks rich on the outside but another poor ass on the inside !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love it I love it !!! 🙂

    Bruce 🙂

  15. Chinese society can’t have a modern economy without modern marriage. Divorce rates go up when people become more mobile. Arrange marriage favors men. The story somehow portrayed the guy as a victim.
    It usually takes a lot more for a Chinese woman to divorce because you are damaged goods afterwards.

  16. Okay, this strikes a chord close to home here… my husband is the youngest child of 4 girls, he’s the only son… ALL of his sister’s have had rough marriages, the oldest sister fairing the best, I presume because they live in America now. The second oldest sister’s husband is a heavy gambler, and she basically minds her own business and doesn’t “meddle.” The third sister’s husband left her for several years because she didn’t have a son (they had a daughter, now 6 years old or so, then she miscarried a son) and they were always fighting. He lived in Guangzhou while she lived in Hunan, for years. Suddenly I hear last year that they were back together but she was expecting and apparently the doctor told them it was another girl so they almost had an abortion, but since it was a “long bao bao” they decided against it… Turns out the doctor was wrong and they had a BOY, so now her husband loves her forever and ever I guess (makes me sick). The fourth sister got married when she was like 26 but she married really fast to this guy she hardly knew who some friends and family introduced for her… they had two babies in two years, a boy and a girl. The year Will and I got engaged I heard they started fighting really bad. He tried to borrow gambling money from my parents in law, which they refused to give him. He was slapping her in front of my father in law, and my father in law basically called him a good for nothing SOB (go Dad!). Ever since then, he doesn’t work, uses her money that she earns in the clothing store she owns, to get prostitutes and gamble. She shares her woes on her QQ page, while he curses her out on his QQ page. Seriously, what a mess! And sooo SAD.

    My husband says that today’s world in different, so that’s why the marriages are falling apart in China. Everything is more modern and mobile, people have access to internet porn, and traveling and going away is so much easier. I agree, BUT I also think Michelle’s previous comment is spot on… I am so confused at the way most Chinese rush into marriage, when they are generally so shrewd and wise in other matters! It makes no sense at all! Our 1.5 dating/engagement period was an ETERNITY for my in laws, while it was SHORT and quick to my friends and family!

  17. askdsk does have a point re “It usually takes a lot more for a Chinese woman to divorce because you are damaged goods afterwards”.

    Yes this is true, a divorced woman in China will find it hard to find a “second husband”; if they start dating she may not tell him that she was previously married. In cases where a woman has a child she may not tell him about the child in the fear that he will leave; this then becomes complicated when the relationship becomes serious and she must tell him about the child in the hope that he “loves” her enough to stay and accept both her and her child. If the man “accepts” the woman and child the next hurdle is his parents….not many Chinese parents can accept a divorcee with a child as their future daughter-in-law.

    @ Rachel….re your father-in-law stood up to his daughters husband can I ask if he spoke to his daughter about leaving or separating from her husband?

  18. I read above that when men divorce they usually marry very fast, I´m surprised, my dad is divorced since 1997 and he keeps saying one time after another one: I don´t want to marry again, I learned my lesson.
    It doesn´t mean he lost faith in love, he keeps saying to us to please fight for each other, but he has gone through a very hard divorce, pre-divorce, post-divorce…and so on. Trusting someone else is difficult, divorce is expensive and in general, sorry for saying this, but women take advantage of divorce ( house, car, pension) so … go dad! you rock it!

  19. @Mira… I know many family members have been encouraging my fourth sister in law to “fen shou 分手“ but I think they just mean separate, not divorce. My in laws are very traditional, village folk. I think divorce is still a little too modern and severe for them. I have a hard time understanding why she stays with a cheating, abusive, gambling, wasteful husband… but I have a feeling that she is staying for the kids… I don’t know if in China in order to get a divorce, both parties need to sign?!

  20. @Rachel and Mira:
    Divorce is still very harsh for women in China, especially for those with children and living in the countryside — there is no enforceable alimony and child support law, and as askdsk said it is very difficult for a divorced woman, especially one with kids, to re-marry. Chinese men care too much about face when it comes to having a divorced woman as a wife — how his family, friends, colleagues, etc. will perceive him will haunt him for the rest of his life.

    I am guessing that people re-marry (or marry for the first time) super fast because of the tremendous pressure from their parents. Parents would go on a frantic husband hunt if their daughter is not married by the age of 25. And once they marry off their kid, the next thing is to press for a grand child. This is a crude generalization, of course, but still true to a certain degree.

  21. Not sure if this is as much a chinese thing as a development thing. The world is changing, however with it we are also forced to re evaluate the system of marriage which remains archaic. People have more options, things are easier and we are not required to reproduce per se. Marriages everywhere are disintegrating faster also because in the older value system (may it be a western idealistic pursuit of love and passion or eastern practicality) cannot help people find value in marriages in this time. Passion fades, cohabitation if not forced or required, needs adjustment; and practicality cannot supplement passion or desire. Then there are “pop scholars” everywhere u harp how monogamy is impossible (comparing us to animals who still manage to do a better job of raising progeny in polygamous situations).

    For whatever reasons, marriage as an institution is disintegrating everywhere. China has its own reasons like any other place. US still leads the world with almost 50% divorce rates and I am sure it will soon be joined by others. I dont think there is a right answer to this question. I think people across the world need to rediscover the benefits of sharing your life with an understanding and caring spouse. For countries in south and far east asia I would also say that over time the current young generation will become the older generation and things will improve. Right now, relatives tend to meddle into their kids lives. This is slightly different from parental intervention mind you. Parents are solely driven by the concern for their childs well being. Relatives are driven by too much free time, and useless gossiping. For e.g.. I have heard several cases where despite the 2 people being perfectly compatible and happy together parents and relatives, whose snubbing was the motivator for these parents; broke these couples off. It sort of re sets the childs perspective, and I havent seen many happy endings among this group (even if they do not get divorced in the end). In contrast, I have seen western friends, who refuse to empathize or compromise for their partners, even if they are otherwise a happy couple. I dont mean to generalize, but its the same case of old values imposing upon individuals who face a completely different set of challenges.

  22. Do not need to make divorce a moral issue. It is about the same as the freedom to marry. Divorce rate will not destroy marriage as an institution either.

  23. @centaur,
    Also continuing a broken marriage can destroy a child.
    Honestly I could feel that the relationship between my parents was not good anymore, and divorce was the best, for them, for me. It does not mean it was easy, I just say, It was the best for everyone.

  24. @Laura: I agree with you too. It really depends on the specific situation and the child (and of course also the age of the child). For some children it might be hard to see their parents part, while for others it might be unbearable to hear them argue all the time. It’s not easy either way, but staying together for the children’s sake is not always the best option.

  25. It also depends on the parents, if they can divorce and still keep in mind that the kid comes first, is the best.
    I remember when I was little my grandma also thought couples that divorce were not strong enough or a “shame”.
    She was watching TV and every time a couple talked about divorce she was saying all kind of things, until it happened to her own daughter, … 😉
    Everything can run smoothly if both agree the kids is the most important point, does not matter what it is said at the court ( Ex: the father can only see the kid twice a week), so if your daughter says: ” Oh I miss daddy can I go to visit him?”, you will say: “No, twice a week, that´s the rule”.?? Then well, for sure the kid is going to suffer!!!
    Whatever the court says, do the best for the kid, there are no rules for such a thing.

  26. It can be hard for older generations to accept divorce. After all, my grandmothers would stick to their husbands no matter what. Divorce was never an option for them. But times are changing and with it expectations and family structures are changing too. My grandmother was against my parents divorce at first, but she slowly adjusted to the new situation and when my mother married again she cried at the wedding because she was very touched and happy for my mother. My other grandmother still has a hard time accepting the fact that my parents got divorced and thinks that they should have stayed together just for the childrens’ sake (that’s actually what they did for quite a few years pre-divorce).

    People often say how there’s a lot of pressure on women in China not to divorce, but although divorce rates in Europe are probably much higher now than they used to be in the past, there can still be a lot of pressure from society or family, and this is especially the case if you don’t live in a bigger city.

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