Want a divorce in China? Not if you do well in this quiz

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It’s like the American television show the Newlywed Game, but for divorce.

In some parts of China, married couples seeking to split up have been asked to take a quiz issued by the local authorities. The more they know about each other — including a spouse’s birthday or favourite food — the less likely they are to have the divorce immediately approved.

The quizzes, issued in at least two provinces since last year, follow the format of a typical three-part school exam: fill-in-the-blank, short-answer questions and an essay. Questions include the mundane —”When is your anniversary?”— and the philosophical: “Have you fulfilled your responsibility to your family?”

The divorce rate in China is rapidly rising, driven largely by working women who feel newly empowered to seek one. But the government is trying to slow the trend, which it sees as a source of social instability.

The quizzes — 15 questions, scored on a scale of 100 points — were developed as a way to prevent “impulse divorces,” Liu Chunling, an official in Lianyungang, a city in Jiangsu province, told the Yangtse Late News. He said authorities considered a score of 60 points or higher to mean “room for recovery,” and those couples were encouraged to work on their marriages.

“Through the guidance of the questions, couples can reminisce on the moments of their relationship and reflect on their familial roles and responsibilities,” Liu, who oversees Lianyungang’s civil marriage registry, told the newspaper.

Attempts to reach officials in Lianyungang were unsuccessful. Workers in Liu’s office refused to say whether the quizzes were still being given.

A couple climb on a replica of an Egyptian pyramid as they pose for wedding photos in Chengdu in China's south-western Sichuan province.

A couple climb on a replica of an Egyptian pyramid as they pose for wedding photos in Chengdu in China’s south-western Sichuan province.Photo: Chinatopix/AP

Nearly 2 million Chinese couples divorced in the first half of 2017, an 11 per cent increase from the year before, according to state news media. About 3 per cent of all married couples sought a divorce last year, up from fewer than 1 per cent in 2002, according to iFeng, a state-owned news channel citing the Ministry of Civic Affairs.

Liu said the quizzes were meant only to be a starting point, not the deciding factor in whether a couple could split up. But at least one couple’s high score resulted in the authorities’ preventing their divorce in another province last year.

A court in Yibin, a small city in Sichuan province, refused to grant the couple a divorce in September after citing their stellar test scores, according to local news outlets.

More than 70 per cent of divorces filed in China last year were initiated by women, The South China Morning Post reported, citing the Supreme People’s Court. In most filings, incompatibility was given as the major reason; 15 per cent cited domestic violence.

However, a smaller number of divorces appear to be shams resulting from a quirk in Chinese real estate law. Some cities limit the number of properties a married couple can own. By legally divorcing, a couple can buy more real estate in some of the world’s most expensive cities.

Experts said the state’s focus on preventing divorce stems from a Confucian belief that a stable society is made up of complete families.

“Only through thousands of harmonious family units can an entire society achieve harmony,” said Liu, the Lianyungang official.

The Chinese government has regulated many aspects of private family life, including religion and pregnancy.

“Marriage and family are seen as a stabilising force, and the government wants to keep men and women in marriages,” said Leta Hong Fincher, author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.

Chinese internet users were quick to criticise the divorce quizzes after a copy of a Lianyungang test was posted on Weibo, the popular microblogging site, by the city’s Civic Affairs Bureau.

“So if you remember your wedding anniversary you can’t divorce?” one commenter wrote. “Divorce isn’t a case of amnesia.”

“They are adults and they have the right to divorce,” another Weibo user wrote. “Isn’t this an interference in domestic affairs?”

Officials in Lianyungang have pushed back against the criticism, saying that taking the quiz was voluntary.

“The main objective is to let the couple consider this rationally and to treat it seriously,” the bureau said on Weibo in response to the most popular online comments.

New York Times

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