Database Targets Cheating Spouses

Authorities in China hope to discourage bigamy and extra-marital affairs by publishing marriage databases.

2011.01.17
chinawedding305.jpg Chinese couples gather for a mass wedding ceremony in Beijing, Dec. 22, 2006.
AFP

Authorities in Beijing and Shanghai will post details of citizens' marriages in online databases this year in an attempt to crack down on fraud and bigamy, although the move has sparked fears over personal privacy.

Officials plan to extend the scheme to cover the whole country by 2015.

Bigamy, which is illegal under Chinese law, has surfaced as part of a series of high-profile corruption cases in recent years, to the embarrassment of the government.

And the re-emergence of informal "second wives," or mistresses, has been linked to corruption and growing wealth among China's elite.

Officials are regularly lampooned by Chinese netizens for keeping palatial homes, bounteous expense accounts, and a string of fast cars and mistresses.

The high-spending, entertainment-based business culture has fostered an environment in which tycoons and powerful people live in a culture of drinking, gambling, and expensive women.

Anti-graft inspectors have said several officials have been found guilty of bigamy in recent years, including Qiu Xiaohua, former head of the National Bureau of Statistics.

Qiu was expelled from the Party as a "vile social and political influence" in 2007.

Beijing and Shanghai are among the first places to implement the scheme, which was previously announced but later delayed.

A useful resource

Beijing-based rights lawyer Tang Jitian said the database could prove to be a useful resource and cut down on marriage fraud and bigamy.

"It will definitely have the effect of guarding against or mitigating risks," Tang said. "It will enable the two parties entering into a marriage to have a better knowledge and understanding of the other party."

Tang said marriage is often seen in today's China as a way to negotiate power and wealth.

"Men are likely to use their dominance through money and power, and if their desires get inflated, then this can give rise to the phenomenon of bigamy," he said.

"Some women, whether for their own social reasons or because of difficulties in earning a living ... may also have the idea that they could find a shortcut by getting lucky [with the right man]."

Tang said that while bigamy is illegal, cases of bigamy are brought only if a complaint is filed by one of the victims.

"If no one sues, no one cares," he said. "I don't think that ... you should leave citizens entirely on their own, here."

He called on the government to do more to help citizens protect their rights.

"The state ... should extend necessary assistance or offer resources and guidance to civil society groups that offer it," he said. "In this way, they could guarantee the rights of the victims of bigamy."

A form of state control

Ai Xiaoming, a professor at Guangzhou's Zhongshan University, said that many officials will find ways to circumvent the new database, which was yet another form of state control over people's lives.

"This really just intrudes on the freedom and privacy of the individual," Ai said.

"The state's power has been extended way too far here."

"At the same time as infringing on the privacy of their citizens, they are limiting their freedom," she added.

The word "mistress," or second wife, made it into a recent edition of one modern Chinese dictionary, which defines it: "A woman who is illegally kept by a man who already has a spouse."

Once derided as part of the "old society" of pre-1949 China, emblematic of class struggle and the oppression of women, the phenomenon is making a massive comeback as China takes on more and more freewheeling economic reforms.

In 2006, the Mistresses' Rights site was set up by Zheng Baichun after he witnessed a woman who had cared for a sick lover set up a civil rights group for mistresses.

Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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