When a child is born in China, the parents must register him/her and obtain a hukou (household registration certificate). When a couple recently went to register their child, they were told that, since they were not married, they would have to pay a 40,000 yuan “social maintenance fee.” Not having that amount of money, they launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise money to pay the fee. Their story garnered a lot of attention and prompted discussion on social media. It was even covered by The New York Times.
They publicly raised questions about reproductive rights, marriage, and whether or not social convention (as opposed to love) should dictate whether or not a couple should marry.
Joining in the conversation was the Christian publication Territory. In the article translated here, the writer takes a closer look at the couple’s story and the attitudes of today’s millennials in China and then turns to the Christian teaching on marriage.
Do We Want Marriage or Just a Child
Changing the Rules of the Game to Cater to Personal Wishes?
“I am Shen Bolun. The daughter I had with Wu Xia was born at 11:38 on June 21st, Father’s Day. Both mother and child are doing well.”
On Father’s Day of this year, 25-year-old Shen Bolun became a new father, celebrating the arrival of his child together with his ex-girlfriend Wu Xia.
More than five months ago when Wu Xia was 17 weeks pregnant, the two decided to separate, but still give birth to their child. After the child was born and Wu Xia applied for a hukou (household registration certificate) she was informed that as an unmarried parent she would have to pay 40,000 yuan in “Social Maintenance Fees.” In response, Shen Bolun and Wu Xia decided to launch a crowd-funding campaign. Their actions thrust the two into the spotlight and they quickly became a media sensation.
The situation was reported in the July 16th issue of Southern Weekly in the article “They Only Want a Child, Not Marriage—The Unmarried Child Experiment.”
During an interview with a Southern Weekly reporter, the two shared their thoughts:
Love should not be forced; those who like one another should stay together, those who do not should separate. . . . A relationship that requires compromise and perseverance in order to continue is not worth pursuing …
If the two of us can help our child feel loved, that is what is fair. Instead of putting our energy into maintaining the expected public image of a family it would be better to examine how we can invest in the lives we want to live, allowing our child to experience the hope found in life itself. We believe that reproductive rights should not be tied to marriage!
At the time of this interview with, Shen and Wu spoke confidently, promoting a fairly unconventional view of marriage, love, and childrearing.
The crowd-funding campaign they initiated attracted a large audience and ignited passionate debate. Some expressed support for their campaign and the awareness it raised:
Is it really appropriate to tie child-bearing to marriage? For the modern woman, the right to maintain independence is also reasonable.
Others expressed extreme disgust:
If a child is brought into the world for love, the marriage provides a stable family for the child, thus preventing the child from having “father unknown” recorded in his/her hukou. If you’re not in love, why have a child?
Do you really think this is fair to the child?
Irresponsible parents are the greatest enemy to a child!
If we separate reproductive rights from marriage, who will guarantee the rights and benefits of the woman?
In their appeal, Shen and Wu focus on the social injustice of the current system, criticizing the 40,000 yuan “Social Maintenance Fee” policy levied against unmarried mothers. However, this topic reflects much deeper questions:
- How do we look at marriage and the relationship between men and women?
- What is the best way to bring up the next generation?
- Is it true that reproductive rights should not be tied to marriage?
The non-conformist approach of Shen Bolun and Wu Xia may not represent Chinese millennials as a whole; however the questions they raised around these issues reflect the unspoken struggles churning in the hearts of many young people today.
Pluralism emphasizes individual independence and a post-modern view of mutual tolerance. Millennials have often been encouraged to challenge the established rules and the current situation of society. However, when we reflect on the current rigid system and try to control the power of discourse, is it possible that we are actually looking to change the rules of the game in order to cater to our personal desires or interests? And will our actions require future generations to pay for our freedom of choice?
Is Marriage Bondage or Protection?
Shen Bolun, who was born in 1989, said during an interview that he is a freedom-loving soul who hates all types of restrictions. He believes marriage is about feelings—if there is no love, there is no need to stay together.
So then looking at the course of history it raises the question: is marriage a thing of bondage, or a type of protection?
If the institution of marriage ceased to exist, would we then live more freely?
Chen Shangren, the Dean and associate professor of ethics at Taiwan Seminary comments that “without marriage, the relationships between men and women will become a place where the weak are prey to the strong, and interactions will simply degrade into a barbaric game. Many economists compare the system of choosing a spouse to engaging in the marketplace.
Those who are older must compete with the younger; the ordinary compete against the beautiful; the poor compete against the rich. However, marriage is not a simple matter of a benefit exchange; instead it is about personal growth, and the lover and the beloved walking in mutuality." Chen believes that when the institution of marriage is no longer respected, when we are thrust into the law of the jungle where the strong prey on the weak, it will be impossible for our society to experience true happiness.
In an interview, Wu Xia said “during pregnancy women will naturally have a tendency to nest; this due to hormonal reasons. During that time I felt a great need for support and security.”
Educated in the States, Wu Xia placed great value on her personal independence, however the pregnancy gave her a desire for stability. After her child was born, the conflict between Wu Xia and the freedom-loving Shen Bolun increased, eventually leading them to finally break up.
Faced with the concerns of life as an unmarried mother, Wu Xia said, “This is my own choice. Single mothers are common in other countries, and I do not want to be portrayed as abandoned and worthy of pity."
However, the longings for a sense of belonging, stability and love are all part of maternal nature; without the protection of marriage and in the name of respect for other people’s choices, she could only suppress the pain and fear that were deep in her soul.
Reportedly, when Wu Xia learned of Shen Bolun’s new girlfriend she experienced an emotional breakdown, losing four pounds in two days. Later, however, she slowly came to a place of healing.
When God established marriage, he gave it a clear definition: one man to one woman, as husband and wife, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, going through thick and thin together, as one throughout life.
In marriage, even if the moods of a pregnant wife swing wide the husband should learn to support his wife. They should both treat each other with love.
In trying to defend the modern, feminist, independent woman and challenge the order of marriage established by God, modern feminists have removed themselves from the hand of God’s protection and put women in potential danger.
In one sense, we can say that marriage is a type of bondage, because when we enter marriage we can only ever love this one other person in this way; we must take responsibility for our choice and guard the commitment we have made. However the deeper meaning of marriage is that two people full of defects, scars, and weaknesses are called to rely on God to learn what it is to truly love one another.
Under the protection of marriage, when one member loses their way or slips, each is given the opportunity and hope for change.
“Marriage: Forcing Us to Study Reconciliation Deeply"
We millennials love independence and freedom; living in command of a self-seeking, self-actualizing i-generation, any person or thing that comes into conflict with our self-actualization is seen as the greatest possible crime.
"We have made personal freedom the rule by which we live, calling on the world to serve our freedom, positioning ourselves at the center around which everything else revolves.
"We take it for granted that the purpose of the existence of love and marriage is to satisfy my body, my heart, and my soul. However marriage was not merely intended so that “I” might enjoy some warm feelings of intimacy; instead it is that after recognizing the unlovable parts of myself and my partner I can allow God to wipe away the tears and heal the wounds, and draw from the one who is the source of all love to continue to love one another."
Shen Bolun and Wu Xia’s story is similar to that of many young people: they rush in to enjoy physical intimacy only to discover after pregnancy that there is a significant gap between in their ideals regarding freedom and marriage.
During an interview Wu Xia explained that she does believe two people can persevere in love and eventually marry, but she is not certain whether or not she herself will encounter such love. This is a very different view from that of Shen Bolun, who sees marriage ultimately as a form of constraint.
Some people experience pregnancy before they have established a family. They will rush into marriage for the child, but then divorce quickly as well. Shen Bolun's choice was to not try at all, in the name of preserving his freedom. Regardless of whether we look at the choice to preserve and enjoy the freedom of singleness or the shotgun wedding quickly followed by divorce, these are relatively easy roads; the difficult road is to truly enter marriage and guard it throughout life.
Adjusting to marriage is adjusting to a place of iron-sharpening-iron, where people release their own egos and through the heat of the forge become a more beautiful, true, and generous self.
American author Gary Thomas observes that “marriage forces us to study deeply what it is to become reconciled to another. To coexist with others is not so difficult as long as you keep a certain distance. In maintaining singlehood we can avoid contact with the immature areas of ourselves, choosing to ignore our own selfishness and weaknesses which are worth critique. But marriage forces us to become better people. In this system, every day you will have the opportunity to learn forgiveness.”
This is a different perspective from what we maybe accustomed to, and Thomas's words remind us of the true meaning of marriage.
Marriage is Never a Happy Fairy Tale
True self-actualization never happens at the expense of the spouse and children, where I require all around me to change in order to accommodate my desires. True self-actualization is that in the furnace of marriage the dregs of selfishness are refined and smelted clean; where responsibility is not dodged, and the apparently easy but bent road is not chosen. This is where the refining of life circumstances is embraced in order that one may become a more complete person.
Will Children See Hypocritical and Fake Love?
Of course, more people may be interested in the question recently raised: if there is no marriage, how will the children be affected?
In this regard, the couple responds: “Children do not necessarily need to grow up in a “perfect” family. If two people can give a child love, this is more beneficial than a simply empty marriage.
“If the two of us can make the child feel loved, all is fair. Instead of putting our energy into maintaining the expected public image of a family it would be better for us to examine how we could invest in the life we want to live, allowing our child to experience the hope found in life itself.”
According to the observation of psychologist Richard Allen, throughout the stages of development children are asking two questions: “Am I loved?” and “Can I do whatever I want?”
If a child is never sure that he or she is loved, his self-image will be greatly distorted; if a child believes he or she can do as he/she pleases, the child will never experience the power that comes from self-discipline.
Many parents lack a good answer to these two questions. Moreover, what children really hear is not the answer we give in word but how we live those answers out in practice.
If parents continue to tell the child he or she is loved, but in relation to their marriage choose the cause of “self-actualization” and a “freedom loving life,” ignoring the other’s needs, feelings, and hurts, is this not simply a fake and hypocritical image of love that they are living out before their child?
Allen believes that “marriage is a bank of wet soil with weeds growing up along with the roses. Every character flaw—lack of patience, fear of intimacy, the constant grasping for more but always lacking satisfaction—will be amplified. Children need to see the best and worst parts in marriage, in order to not only understand the profoundness of sin, but also to understand conviction, repentance, grace, complexity, and to celebrate the glory of it all."
Each conflict and reconciliation between husband and wife, each time one makes a concession for the benefit of the other, each time there is forgiveness after an argument—these are all valuable experiences for the child.
In marriage, a child observes and comes to understand from his or her parents both sin and the grace of God. He or she sees that freedom and responsibility must both be taken into account. He/she learns the balance of intimacy and independence, recognizing that being loved does not mean you have freedom to do as you please. In observing those with a healthy self-image, they recognize the boundaries of what is and is not feasible in a relationship. If parents choose to skip class for the lessons of marriage, how great then is the loss to the child?
The vows two people take before God, to hold hands and grow old together, sound so old fashioned, but they are never out of date. Marriage is a precious gift granted to us from God. May we millennials, also in the context of marriage, deal with our own selves, daily walking in selflessness, seizing the opportunities provided every day to deeply study the lesson of forgiveness in order that we may pass on this blessing.
Original article: 只要孩子不要婚姻？(Territory)
Image credit: by Joann Pittman, via Flickr
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