Marriage Controbersy in China: Who wins?

The question of 'Loser Dogs' has been hotly debated in Japan since Sakai Junko's bestselling volume of essays "The Distant Howl of the Loser Dogs," prompted the coining of the new term to refer to unmarried, childless women over thirty. Almost concurrently in neighbouring China, debate has centered around the question of 'Winning Dogs' - marital relationships and what it means to be a 'wife' - largely due to a television drama serial called "Chinese-style Divorce".

"Chinese-style Divorce" is the story of a typical urban married couple in China - both in their 30's and both working. The husband, Song Jianping, is a brilliant surgeon who works at a state hospital, and the wife, Lin Xiaofeng, is a talented middle school teacher. They live with their seven-year old son but also care for their parents who live nearby. Although their life is quite secure, Lin is unhappy about the fact that her husband is unable to advance in his career despite his high educational qualifications and skills. One day, Song is given the opportunity to transfer to a private hospital. His salary increases but so does his workload and Lin is therefore burdened with most of the housework and child rearing. Although she loves teaching, Lin finally decides to quit her job after agonizing over the difficulty of managing both a career and a family. Supported by his wife in this way, Song is able to make full use of his talents at his new workplace and is eventually promoted to chief surgeon. While rejoicing at her husband's success, Lin is increasingly bored and dissatisfied with life as a full-time housewife and becomes paranoid and suspicious of Song. Song is put off by his wife's irrational behaviour and is attracted to another woman. This places their marriage on the rocks and their relationship finally ends in divorce.

The series writer, Wang Hailing, said in one interview that "In choosing to sacrifice herself for her family in such a way, a wife must be prepared to accept the fact that her choice may produce unhappy results. In the drama series, Lin loses her independence and the more she depends on the love of her husband and child, the more insecure and dissatisfied she becomes. She cries and rants and loses her reason. Thus, one could say that divorce was her choice, and she must accept that result. In other words, it is the wife who must assume responsibility for divorce."

In the drama, the wife is called upon to take personal responsibility in the face of the disintegration of her family. As Wang Hailing says, it was indeed her choice to leave her job and sacrifice her own needs for her family and the divorce may also have been caused by her increasing irrationality. However, I feel that it is unfair to blame everything on the wife. Can one truly say that the self-sacrifice she made - to take over the housework, to care for her child and her husband's parents, to support her husband's career - was 100% her choice?

An editor of a women's magazine directed a criticism towards the series writer: "How can he be so severe towards women when they have so much to deal with as it is?" His response was that "Women certainly have much to deal with, but men have an even harder time" - whereas men only have one path in life, 'to become stronger', women have a choice between two lives: 'good wife/ wise mother' or 'career woman'. The writer's use of the word 'choice' has a positive ring to it but in fact, human beings should have limitless possibilities open to them. I do not understand why women alone are forced to make a 'choice' between either a family or a career. Who was it that decided that choosing one must entail giving up the other? Men are not forced to make such a choice.

A similar issue was raised in "The Distant Howl of the Loser Dogs." It seems to be a given fact that women have only the choice between a family or a career. Women who choose education and a high-income career are spurned by men and become 'loser dogs'. On the other hand, women who choose a family find happiness through the success of their men and are called 'winning dogs'. In other words, if women wish to 'win', and to find happiness, they only have one choice - family. And if they choose family, they must prioritize it above anything. I think that this does not give women the freedom of choice. Is it not unfair for women to be forced to take responsibility when they do not even have the freedom of choice?

In China, it is commonly thought that equality of the sexes is practiced in reality. Indeed, there is a comparatively high employment rate of women in China as dual-income families are common. There are relatively few full-time housewives in China and most women are financially independent. However, it is also a fact that women continue to be burdened with the primary responsibility for family duties such as housework, child rearing, and caring for the elderly. If they cannot successfully combine the two, the general view is that women should prioritize their family over their career. This causes gender discrimination in the workplace. Female employees with children are considered to be less dedicated to their work since they are unable to work overtime. The traditional value, "men outside, women inside" (Nan Zhu Wai, Nv Zhu Nei), that men work outside in society while women work in the home, is still prevalent. Women who have been taught that 'success' lies in looking after their household are now being told that they are to blame for overly committing themselves to their family. In the end, perhaps the 'winning dog' is inevitably failed to lose as well.

Living in a world which is controlled by men is not easy for 'loser dogs' or 'winning dogs'. If there is no hope of victory anyway, perhaps it would be better not to bother with competing and simply act according to one's own free will.

ICU Graduate School : Zhu, Huiwen