Fri, Oct 03, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Red tape cut for Chinese planning to get married

AP , BEIJING

Marriage in China used to be a matter for a man, a woman -- and the couple's employers. No longer.

On Wednesday, China eliminated a much-resented requirement for couples to obtain their bosses' approval before tying the knot, prompting thousands of couples to wed in what, for some, was also a celebration of the retreat of outside interference in their private lives.

Couples lined up as early as 5am outside marriage registration offices. Restaurants and hotel banquet halls were booked solid in major cities, and Beijing's streets were clogged with flower-bedecked motorcades.

"Employers in work units used to have a lot of power over people, but now there's no need," said newlywed Wen Ying, who was having a late-night snack with her new husband and friends at a small restaurant near the Forbidden City, Beijing's ancient imperial palace.

"We're really glad that this rule was canceled because it was a real hassle. It makes getting married feel even better," said Wen's husband, Liu Ping. Liu said the couple had planned to throw a formal banquet for their families, but were forced to postpone because restaurants were all reserved by others.

Couples said "I do" Wednesday at mass ceremonies in city squares, at tree planting ceremonies and even at a Beijing drive-in theater, which transported brides to the ceremony on horseback. One couple exchanged vows submerged in an aquarium -- diving bells over their heads -- while tropical fish swam past.

The new marriage rules are among social reforms that increasingly are freeing private lives from unpopular government controls. Also beginning Wednesday, couples won't be required to get health checks to marry, and those wishing to divorce can do so without attending lengthy government mediation sessions.

Many couples held off registering their weddings until the change took effect, and long lines formed at government offices around the country Wednesday, China Central Television reported. The official Xinhua News Agency said tens of thousands of couples registered their marriages.

Wen said staff at the wedding registry dressed up the office with flowers and played Mendelssohn's wedding march to commemorate the new rules.

"They were really nice. It's a special day," she said.

The old marriage law was a throwback to an era when all Chinese worked for the state or communes and needed permission to travel, get an education or marry.

The employer's letter was intended to serve as proof that both bride and groom weren't already married to other people. However, the requirement became a source of corruption -- some employers demanded bribes in exchange for their consent.

Xinhua acknowledged that in a report this week, saying the old rules were "just a formality or moneymaking procedure in some areas."

Under the new regulations, couples must show ID cards and residency papers and sign a document stating they are not married or related. Officials have threatened to punish bureaucrats who persist in requiring health exams or demand illegal fees from those wishing to marry.

Among other recent reforms, the government said last month that tens of millions of Chinese can now apply for passports without approval from their employers.

But one of the most disliked official restrictions -- the household registration system that dictates where Chinese may live -- is still in effect. The government has given no indication that it might be repealed.

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