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New Rules Delink State Knot From the Marriage Process

In a move heralded as giving greater personal autonomy to marriage and bringing a more "humane approach" to marriage registration, revisions have been made to current laws that require a couple to get employers' approval and a physical checkup before they tie the knot.

The northeastern city of Shenyang, Liaoning Province, has started to pilot the new rule.

The regulation, as has been reported, will bar any organization from "having a say" in an individual's decision to get married.

The practice in China has always been to get a letter of approval from one's employer, if one is employed, or from the neighbourhood committee, if one does not have a regular job.

Technically, it is not for approval, but to prove one's single status. However, as China's population "floats" more freely, it becomes more and more impractical for an employer to know who has stashed a wife in his hometown. Besides, some employers can get too nosy and interfere with other's decision-making.

With the new regulation, one has to be responsible for oneself. The couple at registration will have to swear to their bachelor status. And to prevent polygamy, the civil affairs agency is setting up a giant database where one's marriage status is duly recorded and timely updated. Insiders say this will deter duplicity.

But this is just "the easy part", said Professor Wu Changzhen, marriage expert at China University of Political Science and Law and a key participant in the modification.

The main controversy centres on the physical checkup. Some contend that a couple should know about any potential health problem with oneself as well as the partner before rushing into holy matrimony.

But opponents argue that there is no medical proof that any illness should disqualify a person from marriage. Besides, it has become an open secret that hospitals use the checkup service as a cash cow, usually providing perfunctory and not-always-reliable test results.

They add that no mandatory checkup does not mean a couple cannot take it on their own will.

As for possible side effects of the more lax regulation, Wu said that the emphasis will be shifted towards "tighter management". Under this system, couples who used to be deemed unsuitable for marriage will be monitored for birth control instead.

Basically, the new regulation puts the emphasis on "mutual knowledge, mutual willingness and necessary preventive measures such as family planning" and lets individuals decide for themselves what is in their best interest, explained Wu.

(China Daily Aug 13, 2003)

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