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Home  /  Inside China  /  Shanhun 'Lightening-Speed-Marriages' – A Phenomenon which Keeps Divorce Rates on the Rise
Shanhun 'Lightening-Speed-Marriages' – A Phenomenon which Keeps Divorce Rates on the Rise print version
Early to marry, early to divorce - Many of China's young couples celebrate their love by rushing to marry, and become a traget of family and public criticism.
Derived from the word 闪电 (shǎndiàn) lightening, 闪婚 shǎnhūn is basically marriages which begin and end in an instant. Getting married after a few days up to a couple of months of a romantic acquaintance can be considered shanhun. Whether such a couple stays together or separates they may still be considered to have ‘shanhun', though this phenomenon is often discussed in China as an inevitable inducer of divorces and a marriage suicide.

Shanhun is commonly associated with the ‘80后' (bālínghòu) generation, that is Chinese who were born in the 1980's. Enjoying more freedom to choose one's spouse compared to the preceding generation and also a growing permissiveness, to some extent, in terms of marriage and divorce regulations (‘incompatibility' was added as a justified reason for filing a divorce in 1981), members of the relatively young generation allow themselves to drift with romantic spells which they are under. The ‘80后', being the first generation of single children, are often considered as spoiled and impulsive by older Chinese, and the shanhun habit fits perfectly under this characterization. Needless to say, shanhun is much more evident in urban middle class environments than in rural areas.

There is a clear difference between the nature of shanhun nowadays and quick marriages that took place before the reform era. In the past arranged marriages sometimes involved haste and impatience, not to mention that people above the age of 25 who couldn't allow themselves (or their family's didn't permit them) to take too much time before settling down with the first reasonable spouse they find. Today the idea behind shanhun is more romantic and often connected to love at first sight 一见钟情 (yījiànzhōngqíng).

The idea of finding one's ‘second half' 另一半 (lìngyībàn) might be exciting enough to make people rush to get a stamp on their relationship, but why haste?! Perhaps this involves some rebellion against one's parents, who grew up in a different reality and posses a different view of romance and marriage. Perhaps it's the freedom of choice which youngsters wish to celebrate to the greatest extent, knowing that preceding generations have faced a more restricting reality. Whether shanhun is in some aspects a response to older family members or to a collective Chinese memory, wanting to ride the pendulum and to compensate for the more conservative past, there's no doubt that shanhun is taking things to an extreme.

Several types of shanhun appear in the Chinese media. One is 感情冲动型 (gǎnqíngchōngdòngxíng) impulsiveness, youngsters who fall in love and cannot restrain their relationship. Another type is 心灵空虚型 (xīnlíng kōngxū xíng), ‘a hollow heart'. Members of this type perhaps wish to fill up a void (generated by a recent breakup or a different reason), just like the American concept of ‘rebound', only in this case such ‘rebound' involves a very heavy ball and leads to sticking firmly to the new spouse and institutionalizing the relationship. A quite different type is 利益速配型 (lìyì sùpèi xíng) 'a match of interests', leaving emotion aside and regarding money, property, leaving the parents' home or other interests as the catalysts for a ‘lightening speed wedding'.

The divorce rates in China's big cities are on the rise and clearly the shanhun phenomenon contributes to this trend. Perhaps the problem isn't the haste weddings as it is the naïve attitude some youngsters express. Some might be unable to deal with the fact that a serious relationship isn't always smooth and conflict-free and therefore file for a divorce as soon as their fantasy dream ends. Others, however, might understand that after the early wedding there is still a need to get to know each other more profoundly and therefore they take use of the marriage situation to work together and develop a stable foundation for the future. When the latter is the case then the 'lightening' might become a strong and stable light projector.

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