Document Type

Article

Date of Original Version

11-14-2006

Abstract

For centuries, Chinese women enjoyed no freedom in marriage but had to obey the dictates of their parents and heed the words of matchmakers (arranged marriage). Once she got married, she could not divorce her husband, but only be divorced by him. Besides, she was not allowed to remarry if her husband died. Traditionally, a married woman is expected to live with her husband’s family. When the husband has to live away from his family, however, she has to stay with her in-laws and take care of them. Men thus suffer chronic separation from their wives, such as traveling merchants, may “marry” another woman where he lives and set up a separate household with her. Due to the geographical separation, the second woman often regards herself as a full wife for all practical matters. Yet legally this marriage is not recognized, and she is treated as a concubine. This old practice has influenced the recent surge of polygamy in mainland China. Since the opening of China’s border in the 1970s, businessmen from Hong Kong and Taiwan started setting up “secondary wives” (the so-called “er nai”) in mainland. Since then it has spread to local affluent men

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