In 1950, China''s new Communist government enacted a Marriage
Law to allow free choice in marriage and easier access to divorce.
Prohibiting arranged marriages, concubinage, and bigamy, it was one
of the most dramatic efforts ever by a state to change marital and
family relationships. In this comprehensive study of the effects of
that law, Neil J. Diamant draws on newly opened urban and rural
archival sources to offer a detailed analysis of how the law was
interpreted and implemented throughout the country.
In sharp contrast to previous studies of the Marriage Law, which
have argued that it had little effect in rural areas, Diamant
argues that the law reshaped marriage and family relationships in
significant--but often unintended--ways throughout the Maoist
period. His evidence reveals a confused and often conflicted state
apparatus, as well as cases of Chinese men and women taking
advantage of the law to justify multiple sexual encounters, to
marry for beauty, to demand expensive gifts for engagement, and to
divorce on multiple occasions. Moreover, he finds, those who were
best placed to use the law''s more liberal provisions were not
well-educated urbanites but rather illiterate peasant women who had
never heard of sexual equality; and it was poor men, not women, who
were those most betrayed by the peasant-based revolution.