Marriage or Divorce? COVID-19 Reshapes the Intimacy of Chinese Couples

Impacted by the strict quarantine rules, the daily lives of Chinese couples has flipped upside-down. The once less-frequent activities, like cooking dinner together, became mainstream when millions of employees were required to work from home to flatten the curve.

While some people regard the isolation as a precious period, allowing them to spend more time with companions to consolidate their connections, the cracks on relationship are looming as complaints over trivial things between couples mounted and the incidents of domestic violence multiplied in various cities.

As China’s virus-containment policies loosen, the intimacy of Chinese couples amid COVID-19 came to a turning-point with both loving new marriages and bitter divorce.

A Dash of Romance

China’s Alipay recently posted on its official Weibo that a local marriage application system it operates witnessed a 300% surge in traffic on the first day of Wuhan officially lifting its 76-day lockdown, causing it to temporarily be unavailable.

Alipay announced it also provided a useful mini program with functions to check common names for couples looking for a unique name for their babies at the next stage of their relationship.

As the virus-hit city restarts its normal life, some Wuhan couples are rushing to get married. It is reported that 171 couples got their marriage certificate on April 8.

“We made a reservation online two days in advance and want to make this day special” said a couple outside the Bureau of Civil Affairs of Wuchang District.

“While the conventional procedure of making an oath on the podium is cancelled to limit the processing time, I will take care of you all my life” the man told his wife before the camera.

There is also a romantic picture circulating online showing a young couple kissing with their faces masked after they registered for marriage.

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Queuing for Divorce

However, not every spousal story ends happily. Divorce filings started rising in March after couples emerged from quarantine.

In Beilin District of China’s Shanxi Province, Xi’an City, there were fourteen reservations for divorce on March 5, hitting a daily record-high volume.

“There is usually a surge in cases after the college entrance examination (Gaokao) and the Chinese New Year. We can clearly see an increasing number of couples registering for divorce this year as conflicts accumulated amidst the quarantine life and we suspended operations for a while” cited a clerk at the Bureau of Civil Affairs of Beilin District.

Similar situations were seen in cities of Sichuan Province and Guangdong Province. Chinese netizens carried out discussions over the “flood of divorce” on social media.

Miss Fang, living in Hangzhou City of Zhejiang Province, said she prepared to get divorced after this pandemic as the martial irritants with her husband raged.

“I drove around the city to buy face masks for my family members and my husband saying he wouldn’t wear one”, Miss Fang said. “It has been six years since we got married, I didn’t receive the dignity and care I deserve. The pandemic may be a tipping point.”

According to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, China’s divorce rate has been rising steadily since 2003 and the number of divorce cases rose gradually over the past 15 years, peaking at 4.5 million in 2018.

China introduced a cooling-off period of 30 days for divorce when the National People’s Congress drafted the Civil Code part on marriage and family to reach a ceasefire between couples on the verge on divorce.

Closed Door Violence

Multiple reasons account for the soaring divorce rate, such as housework, child care and one factor should never be neglected — domestic violence.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently called for measures to address a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” directed towards women and girls. It is reported that Lebanon and Malaysia, for example, have seen the number of calls to helplines double, compared with the same month last year.

Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic-violence NGO in China said that there were 83 domestic violence calls to police in February, 36 cases more than last February, as they monitored Qianjiang county of Hubei Province.

“We also noticed that there were 162 cases in Lijian county of Hubei this February, rising threefold year on year and most of them are linked to domestic violence against wives.” Wan added.

As Healthcare providers and police are overwhelmed and understaffed to deal with the pandemic, the strain on services hampers the response to the surge in violence. These cruel behaviors behind closed doors are destroying healthy marriages.

Fortress Besieged

For older Chinese generations, getting hitched was quite common and universal. It symbolized people entering a new phase of their life and with that came the expectation to have a baby.

While in today’s China, tying the knot isn’t what it used to be and is no longer seen as a requirement. The younger generation carefully weighs the pressure of marriage and modern Chinese women are constantly breaking the patriarchal institution to realize their self-value.

The quarantine life amid COVID-19 has exposed the challenging intricacies of a marriage that many couples are facing or likely to face in the future. Those who went through it tend to build a stronger emotional connection with their companions and others might reevaluate the essential meaning of marriage.

Whether eagerly rushing to marry or dashing to get a divorce, the intimacy of Chinese couples has been reshaped by this pandemic and it once again echoes the famous quote: “Marriage is like a fortress besieged: those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.”