Tuesdays with Alyssa: bathrooms, pollution and divorce in China today.

Here’s what I learned from my Chinese tutor today.

–First up, there are two different words for bathroom: 1. xi shou jian literally means “wash” “hand “room” and is for any public bathroom. 2. wei sheng jian means “hygenic” “room” and is for your home bathroom. I like this. One for ‘seat covers neccessary.’ One for not.

–Alyssa asked about my recent trip to the US and asked if the pollution there really bothered me. I said, ‘no, no it’s so much clearer than it is here.’ And she was shocked! Shocked that such an advanced nation would have no pollution. I pointed to my iPhone and said that’s because they make all of these here! Incredible.

–She suggested I go to work for the Mr.’s company so I can make sure he doesn’t leave me for a younger woman. Apparently, it’s very common in China for a wife to go work at her husband’s company to keep an eye “on things.” Then she went onto tell me about her cousin’s colleague who was about 30 and went to work at her husband’s company after they married. And then he proceeded to have an affair with one of their mutual co-workers. The horror! Not that he would have an affair but that he would do it right in front of her!!! I think the message here is mistresses are okay, just don’t do it in a way that humiliates your wife.

–Sidenote: I don’t think she actually believes that it’s possible that I work from home for Minted and often asks me why I don’t go down to Central to have lunch with the Mr. every day. Then I try to explain that the Mr. often has lunch meetings or can’t get away from his desk and she looks very concerned…

There has been a recent change in property laws after several rulings from recent high-profile divorces. It used to be that when you divorced, assets were split evenly. But now property will go to whomever it was registered to before the marriage, rather than be considered part of the joint estate. It’s somewhat similar to what California has where property from before the marriage is considered non-community property, but because American law looks at a lot more details and nuance Alyssa and others are super worried that it’s injurious to women.

I asked a lawyer of mind to explain how this works in the States–not that this Housewife believes in divorce!):

In community property states, property acquired during marriage is presumptively community property, and is divided equally upon divorce, regardless of title. Also, all income earned and debts incurred are generally shared 50/50 upon divorce. Community property states classify “separate property” as (1) gifts given to one spouse, (2) property owned before the marriage and kept separate during the marriage, and (3) inheritance. Separate property is not divided amongst spouses upon divorce in a community property states. I think only CA, AZ, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin are community property states… mostly Western, which is kind of interesting.

All other states apply “common law” rules for distribution of property upon divorce. In these states, it’s usually easy to tell which spouse owns what based on title, registration, etc.  If both spouse’s share title, each own a half interest in the property unless the title document says otherwise. If an item doesn’t have a title document, the spouse who pays, owns.

So let’s say a bride marries a wealthy man and raises his children for 20 years in “their” home. If he had bought that home before their marriage, then she would get no part of it. This had Alyssa up in arms! She pointed out that even if say the Bride’s parents gave a house upon marriage to the couple that the polite and manly thing to do would be for the husband, who is the head of the household, to register the home under his name — in good faith. But then if the couple divorced, the house would go to the husband because it was registered to him. This apparently makes divorce even more appealing to many men… and China is already facing a massive increase in recent divorces, up 7 percent annually over the past five years according to a Ministry of Civil Affairs report.

The nuance is that “the court should give reasonable consideration and compensation for the other party’s contribution to mortgage payments and to the appreciation of the house.” However it does seem like nuance is often lost in Chinese legal proceedings.

Ironically, marriage traditionally in China has been a very strong institution even though mistresses were completely permissible. Traditionally, a wife in Chinese is called a “qi zi” and a mistress is called a “qie.” A “qie” is a slave and has no legal rights, whereas the “qi zi” or wife is a free citizen and has all power over the mistresses… if her husband dies she decides the fate of all the mistresses.

Given that there are now 6 men to every 5 women in China, it follows that women tend to marry up and are most likely to get screwed by this law. Wealthy Chinese men have literally hordes of mistresses and this law lets him divorce his first wife and leave her with next to nothing to marry a mistress… I’m not sure I completely have my head around this but it seems that perhaps given China’s cultural background moving towards a more Western legal view of marriage is actually eroding women’s rights.

Can anyone shed a little light on how this new ruling will effect the institution of marriage in China–please chime in!

–Also of note in this new explanation which piqued my interest: “courts will rule against the party who refuses a court-ordered paternity test, and the claim of the oppositional party will be considered as true and legitimate.” Does anyone know if this is true in the US?

–To further complicate things, other couples are actually faking divorces to skirt recent laws that the goverment has passed to try to curb the crazy real estate bubble: “China this year raised the minimum down payment for second- home purchases, and about 40 Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai started limiting the number of apartments to two for each family, and one for non-locals.” By divorcing, couples then can buy up to four houses together.

–I think most of the above boils down to this simple fact: “China’s home ownership mania stems in part from the fact that a private residential property market has only existed for 13 years and has coincided with surging incomes.”

–Sources: China’s New Wealth Spurs Market for Mistresses, Legal Clarification of Marriage Law, Courts Get Property Guidance, China Home Sales Skirt Policies with Divorce

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9 responses to “Tuesdays with Alyssa: bathrooms, pollution and divorce in China today.

  1. Haha – the idea of the Mr. leaving you for someone *younger* is funny! She must not realize that he’s already got his young bride!

  2. COMPLETELY fascinated by this discussion! I love hearing about different cultures! Mistresses are pretty common in Thailand as well. My friend there always asks me if I know any American men she can marry, because Thai men of her social status feel entitled to have mistresses. I thought that was such an antiquated thing but I guess not!

  3. Very interesting! I recently had a coffee with two ladies from Shanghai. One has a serious beau back there but is very interested in meeting other men. I would be curious if it is common for a woman who is high powered and successful to have male boy toy types in her back pocket- even if she is married. A handsome date for a cultural event, a nice looking guy for a dinner out, that sort of thing especially if her husband is traveling all the time and not around. I got the feeling from meeting this ladies that it is very loosey goosey and although in committed relationships they are open to dating others. Note, these women are very affluent and hanging out with a sophisticated group back home in China.

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