Published at Sixth Tone
26 November 2021
In 2004, while conducting fieldwork at a local court in southern China, legal scholar He Xin struck up a casual conversation with a judge. On the subject of challenges he faced in the job, the judge grumbled about his law school education, which he characterized as focused more on teaching how the law was written in books, rather than the “law in action.” “Why did no professor mention that, in divorce cases for instance, Chinese courts had made a habit of rejecting almost all first attempts to file?” the judge asked. “It’s not until they file again that the petition will be processed.”
The conversation started He on a decade-long journey through the weeds of Chinese divorce law. The product of these efforts, Divorce in China: Institutional Constraints and Gendered Outcomes, was published by New York University Press this year. In the book, He draws on a wide range of empirical evidence from court audits and judge interviews to demonstrate how the enforcement of China’s Marriage Law — the first law passed after the Communist Party of China founded the People’s Republic in 1949 — has diverged from its original intention of protecting women’s rights to marry and divorce. Responsible for handling cases efficiently and maintaining social stability, judges often choose to broker a deal that can be accepted by both parties, rather than issue a ruling that holds one or the other responsible. In practice, this has led to drawn-out legal proceedings, the trivialization of serious problems like domestic violence, and an inability or unwillingness to protect women’s custody rights. ...Click here to read the full article.
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