Couples queue across China to take advantage of new freedom

Marriage bureaus across China have been swamped by tens of thousands of couples waiting to tie the knot during the Oct. 1 National Day public holiday, taking advantage of less restricted procedures under new regulations.

Marriage registration bureaus across the country had been ordered to remain open during the holiday in order to prepare for a sudden rush of marriages after the break, officials reports say.

From Wednesday, the authorities had cancelled requirements that all couples submit to pre-marital health checks, and produce a letter from their employer testifying to their single status.

For some, the chief attraction lay in the unusual and prestigious wedding date. "We hope the National Day will add to our happy day," Pang Ying, one half of the first Shanghai couple to register under the new rules, told Xinhua. Ballrooms in luxury hotels in major cities across China were fully booked, as the nation geared up for a week of nuptial celebration.

Other felt a greater sense of citizenship under the new rules, which require simply a national identity card from both parties.

"We are really happy that we will be married without a letter from our employers testifying our marriage status or a forced health examination," said bridegroom Wu Wei, as he and his girlfriend became the 84th couple to register their marriage at a registration office in the Changsha, provincial capital of Hunan.

In the western city of Chongqing, more than 100 couples had signaled their intent to marry on October 1, while registration offices in Beijing had been ordered to stay at work as long as there were couples still waiting to register.

"Marriage registration offices around the country should carefully adjust their working hours to ensure a smooth process of the marriage registration," ministry of civil affairs official Zhang Mingliang told Xinhua.

Zhang also warned that any offices continuing to press for health checks, which had become a big money-earner for local governments, or which charged unauthorized fees to prospective couples, would be severely punished.

The health check requirements previously meant that people with health conditions like HIV/AIDS were technically banned from matrimony. The employer's letter was frequently used as leverage by organizations against individuals.

Both changes affirm the status of Chinese people as individual citizens, whereas previously they were considered part of a danwei, or work unit. In recent years, characterized by sweeping reforms and rapid economic growth, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain old bureaucratic structures.


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