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Lesson 26

              Does Divorce Represent Social Progress?

                                     Text

                  Divorces-a New Social Phenomenon in China

    Divorce used to be very rare in our country. In old times it was not necessary for a man to divorce his wife as he could easily marry another or many others. But women were expected to suffer in silence, and for those who could not, suicide
was the only way out. Despite the new marriage laws after Liberation, women still found the feudal conventions too strong for them to break away from. The film The Well drove home this point only too well.


    It's only in the past decade, ever since our opening up to the outside world, that things are really beginning to change. The following story, dramatic as it sounds, is a true and far from unique story of our times.
    Thirty-year old Xia Yafang used to work in a research institute in Shanghai. Like most young people of her age her ambition was to go abroad and somehow she managed to land herself in Japan. She started to work as a casual labourer in a tourist company in Tokyo. Because of her industry and exceptional ability, and also partly due to chance, she worked herself up to the position of assistant-manager. A brilliant career lay ahead of her and her future looked ever so bright.


    When all seemed to be plain sailing Xiao Xia suddenly lost her peace of mind when she found the admiring eyes of the manager constantly fixed on her. The message the eyes sent out was too obvious to be mistaken. She read in them admiration, love and desire. She could not remain unmoved, but she was caught in a dilemma. She had a husband at home and also a little son. So when the manager formally proposed to her she naturally told him that the whole thing was impossible as she already had a happy little family. But nothing could put the manager off. So deep was his love for her. He pressed his suit and wanted her to divorce her husband and marry him instead. If she had been a single woman she would have accepted him without any hesitation. Now she did not know what to do.


    The manager gave her a fortnight's leave to go home and talk things over with her husband. If he agreed to let his wife go, the manager would pay him a substantial sum as compensation, and also make arrangement for their son to be brought up and settle in Japan.
    When she stepped down from her plane at the airport in Shanghai, she immediately spotted her husband with their child in his arm waiting in the crowd. When she saw him pushing his way through the crowd towards her, tears welled up in her eyes and she started to sob uncontrollably.


    In the days that followed, she was overwhelmed by her husband's loving care and tenderness. She just could not bring herself to talk about a divorce. In the end she left Shanghai without mentioning a word about her manager and his offer.
    But that was not the end of the affair. The manager just would not give her up. He decided to come to Shanghai in person and talk to her husband direct. For the first three days he behaved as if there was nothing between him and Xiao Xia. He let the couple take him around in Shanghai, having a nice time like any other tourist. In the process he managed to win the husband's friendship and trust. Then on the third night he invited the husband to his room in his hotel alone. There he put the whole thing to him openly and frankly, disguising nothing. The shock for the husband can well be imagined.


    He went home to his wife in a dazed state of mind. He didn't mention a word to his wife about his conversation with her manager. There was no need to. She didn't say anything either. She just gave him time to sort things.out for himself.
    When the initial shock was over, he started to do some clear thinking and cool calculation. His wife no longer loved him, at least not undividedly as before. Even if he should forcibly keep her, the shadow of the manager would always stand between them. She would have a much better future with the manager who could offer her much more than he could ever hope to offer. And their son, too, would have a much better future in that fabulously rich land.

Yes, he must admit it, he was thinking for himself too. The "compensation" the manager offered him was an astronomical figure. With it he could say good-bye to poverty for ever. He could even buy a luxury apartment, a car, and find a beautiful young wife... And so his feeling of loss, his wounded pride gave way to a new found equilibrium.
    After the necessary procedure of a divorce and her arrangements and application for another marriage, he saw his former wife and her future husband to the airport. What went through his mind as he watched their retreating figures walking
towards the plane?


    Xiao Xia's story was carried in Shanghaz Legal World. While refraining from moralizing himself, the writer asks the readers to draw their own moral and ethical conclusions. I know many similar cases involving people close to me. In fact I had to act as the legal representative for one. The woman in the office that handled the case told me that such divorce cases ( involving one party that has gone abroad ) are very common. So long as no questions of property or care of children are involved, divorces are granted without any questions asked.


II . Read
    Read the following passages. Underline the important viewpoints while reading.

                            1. On Splitting

    One affternoon recently, two unrelated friends called to tell me that, well, their marriages hadn't made it. One was leaving his wife for another woman. The other was leaving her husband because " we thought it best."
    As always after such increasingly common calls, I felt helpless and angry. What had happened to those solemn vows that one of the couples had stammered on a steamy August afternoon three years earlier? And what had happened to the joy my wife and I had sensed when we visited the other couple and their two children last year, the feeling they gave us that here, in this increasingly fractionated world, was a constructive union?


    I did not feel anger at my friends personally: Given the era and their feelings, their decisions probably made sense. What angered me was the loss of years and energy. It was an anger similar to that I feel when I see abandoned faundations of building projects - piled bricks and girders and a gash in the ground left to depress the passerby.
    When our grandparents married, nobody except scandalous eccentrics
divorced. "As long as we both shall live?was no joke. Neither was the trepidation brides felt on the eves of their wedding days. After their vows, couples learned to live with each other-- not necessarily because they loved each other, but because they were stuck, and it was better to be stuck comfortably than otherwise.


    Most of the external pressures that helped to enforce our grandparents' vows have dissolved. Women can earn money and may enjoy sex, even, bear children, without marrying. As divorce becomes more common, the shame attendant on it dissipates. Some divorcees even argue that divorce is beneficial, educational, that the second' on third or fifth marriage is "the best". The only reasons left to marry are love, tax advantages, and, for those old-fashioned enough to care abour such things, to silence parental kvetching.


    In some respects, this freedom can be seen as social progress. Modern couples can flee the corrosive bitterness that made Strindberg's marriages
night-mares. Dreiser's Clyde Griffiths might have abandbned his Roberta instead of drowning her.
    In other respects, our rapidly-rising divorce rate and the declining. marriage rate (as more and more couples opt to forgo legalities and simply Iive together) represent a loss. One advantage of spending a lifetime with a person is seeing each other grow and change. For most of us, it is possible to see history in the bathroom mirro--gray Hairs, crow's feet, yes, but not a change of mind or temperament. Yet, living with another person, it is impossible not to notice how patterns and attitudes
change and not to learn - about yourself and about time --from those perceptions.


    Perhaps the most poignant victim of the twentieth centatry is our sense of continuity. People used to grow up with trees, watch them evolve from saplings to fruit bearers to gnarled' and unproductive grandfathers. Now unless one is a farmer or a forester there is almost no point to planting trees because one is not likely to be there to enjoy their maturity. We change addresses and occupations and hobbies and lifestyles and spouses rapidly and readily, much as we change TV channels.


    In our grandparents' day one committed oneself to certain skills and disciplines and developed them. Caipenters spent lifetimes learning their craft; critics spent lifetimes learning literature. Today, the question often is not "What do you do?" but "What are you into?" Macrame one week, astrology the next, health food, philosophy, history, jogging, movies, EST - we fly from "commitment" to "commitment" like bees among flowers because it is easier to test something than to master it, easier to buy a new toy than to repair an old one.


    I feel sorry for what my divorced friends have lost. No matter how earnestly the former spouses try to "keep in touch," no matter how generous the visiting privileges for the parent who does not win custody of the children, the continuity of their lives has been broken. The years they spent together have been cut off from the rest of their lives; they are an isolated memory, no more integral to their past than a snapshot. Intelligent people, they will compare their next marriages -- if they have them - to their first. They may even, despite not having a long shared past, notice growth. What I pray, though, is that they do not delude themselves into believing, like so many Americans today, that happiness is only measurable moment to moment and, in the pursuit of momentary contentment, forsake the perspectives and consolation of history.


    There is great joy in watching a tree grow.

                              2. Kramer vs Kramer

    Ted Kramer is a rising young executive in an advertising firm. He has just been promoted to a new responsible post and a brilliant career is before him. When he comes home with the happy news, his wife Joanna announces her decision to leave him. At first he doesn't take her seriously, thinking it was just a passing mood. He just can' t imagine why she should want to abandon a comfortable life (he brings in good money) and a happy family (they have a lovely boy). In all fairness he has never ill-treated her.


    But to Joanna her married life has been an utter failure -- meaningless fatal hour, Joanna turns up, not to take Billy away, but to announce her decision to give up her claim to the custody of her son. She has come to realize how much father and son now mean to each other and she has no heart to upset their lives again. In sorrow and in tears all she asks for is a last meeting with her son before she goes out of their lives forever.

 

                    3. Problems Arising from Living Apart

    The Chinese household registration system forbids permanent dwelling without legal registration with the local public security units. Yet many people leave their hometowns - bringing with them their residence cards -- to get further education or to join the army, or because they are transferred to jobs in other places.


    The separation of married couples thereby occurs, and it has become a growing concern in China for the various problems it causes. Separation can lead to family crisis or divorce. Just as a society as a Whole requires solidity, a family.demands unity and stability. But this is exactly what separated couples lack -- as well as the happiness that comes from living together. As a result, some couples end up permanently separated and divorced, as emotional ties between husband and wife erode.
    The damage is not confined to the couples alone. The absence of normal family life can leave the children ill-educated and the aged uncared for, which can contribute to the instability of the whole society.


    For those living apart (an estimation of 6 million), the government grants one month paid home leave every year to one spouse. This equals more than 10 million lost work days, the equivalent of 300, 000 people not working at all each year. In addition to the travel expenses, this costs the government a total of 2.2 billion yuan a year.
    Moreover, these "travellers" add to congestion in the already overloaded public transportation system.


    To end the misery of living apart, some couples seek.solutions by "back-door" means, by inviting officials to parties or presenting them with gifts. While some succeed, most couples meet with frustration. Of the ones who succeed, some fail to find new jobs that match their skills and specialties.
    Unremitting efforts have been made by the government to ease the problems arising from living apart. Yet, they cannot be solved cornpletely.. There are several reasons for this.


    One obstacle involves job transfers. Most work units are unwilling to accept administrative personnel, and they do not wish to hand over the valuable mernbers of their staff to other units. In addition, most separated spouses who live in large cities dislike moving to small cities or to the countryside, and southerners do not want to go to the north.
    For another thing, some enterprises hxve become highly money oriented, demanding steep compensation for training fees from those who want to quit their jobs. In 1988, 300 to 700 yuan was demanded, but this fee has risen to 1,000 to 7,000 yuan this year. Similarly, the fee for those who apply for a new post grew from between 1,000 and 5,000 yuan last year to between 7,000 and 13,000 yuan early this year, and in some large cities, the fee runs.as high as 40,000 yuan.


    Job mobility should be encouraged and special consultations should be held for the purpose of exchanging employees in different parts of the country. Meanwhile, granting job transfers should not be treated as a good profit-making deal, and people who offer or accept bribes should be penalized.