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Accepted Paper:

Unofficial relations what is their link to marriage in present-day urban China?  
Roberta Zavoretti (Universität zu Köln)

Paper short abstract:

On the basis of ethnographic material collected in the area of Jiangnan (China) the paper assesses the link between marriage and forms of relatedness that are often thought as antagonistic to it, like for example multiple partnerships.

Paper long abstract:

In present-day urban China, marriage is considered to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to consolidate one's material position and social prestige. Marriage is also the precondition for childbearing, and therefore an essential step to fulfil the demands of the intergenerational contract. At the same time, marriage is also heavily moralised as a fundamental milestone in a person's social growth, otherwise defined as zuo ren. Zuo ren denotes a process of self-cultivation that brings the individual to take full awareness of and responsibility for her most important social relations, in particular the ones within the family.

Unmarried and divorced people in China are under a strong social pressure to change their status, and marriage rates remain high compared to other countries in the region. People talking about marriage, however, recurrently mention the decline of proper morals that has emerged after the Open Door Reform; in their view, market-driven prosperity and competition have aggravated what they see as 'social problems' that were already present in Chinese society: pre-marital sex, adultery, concubinage and divorce. For many, the state bears responsibility for what they see as a moral crisis of marriage. In order to reconcile this apparent paradox, the paper draws on ethnographic examples in order to reconsider the link between marriage and the unofficial relations mentioned above, suggesting that they might not be antagonistic after all.

Panel P018
Rethinking marriage: exchange and emotion in comparative perspective
  Session 1