Even by Chi­nese stan­dards, it was an eye-open­ing fig­ure. This March, in the small vil­lage of Jiang­bei, Jiangsu prov­ince, some 160 cou­ples filed for di­vorce at the same time. But this wasn’t some out­break of mar­i­tal dis­cord—the cou­ples, some in their 80s, were merely tak­ing ad­van­tage of the fine print in pro­pos­als to re­de­velop their vil­lage as a “high-tech de­vel­op­ment zone.”

Jiang­bei’s home­own­ers all faced com­pul­sory de­mo­li­tion and re­lo­ca­tion to lo­cal gov­ern­ment-built hous­ing— but sin­gle res­i­dents could qual­ify for more prop­erty, plus around 131,000 RMB (19,000 USD) ex­tra in com­pen­sa­tion, com­pared to mar­ried cou­ples. Hence the rush to “di­vorce”—as one vil­lager told the Nan­jing Morn­ing Post, “Every­body is do­ing this. We’ll deal with the con­se­quences later.” Lo­cal di­vorce at­tor­neys soon be­gan to charge triple their usual fee of 5,000 RMB.

Ex­perts warn that the lo­cal gov­ern­ment may not honor the ex­tra pay­outs if cou­ples are found to be ex­ploit­ing loop­holes by, for ex­am­ple, re­mar­ry­ing soon af­ter. Oth­ers point out that those who do split for financial rea­sons may end up ar­gu­ing over the pro­ceeds, and harm their re­la­tion­ships any­way. Th­ese warn­ings have done lit­tle to stop the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of “fake di­vorces.”

In Au­gust 2016, civil af­fairs bu­reaus across Shang­hai were flooded by hun­dreds of cou­ples lin­ing up to part ways be­cause of ru­mors about an im­mi­nent re­stric­tion on ex­ist­ing prop­erty own­ers buy­ing more houses. As the real es­tate mar­ket in Shang­hai rose an av­er­age 5.6 per­cent in the last week of Au­gust, Wind Info, a financial in­for­ma­tion ser­vice in China, de­scribed the phe­nom­e­non as like “drink­ing poi­son in ri­otous cel­e­bra­tion.”

Some lo­cal gov­ern­ments are find­ing ways to stymie the scam. Beijing, which re­quires buy­ers to pay higher de­posits for each home bought af­ter the first one in an at­tempt to cool its over­heated prop­erty mar­ket, re­leased a pol­icy on March 17 clar­i­fy­ing that any­one who has taken out a mort­gage is now con­sid­ered a prop­erty owner. Buy­ers can­not evade the de­posit scheme even if they are di­vorced and without a house reg­is­tered in their name.

The prac­tice of fake di­vorce is not a par­tic­u­larly re­cent one. Back in 2013, a spate of phony sep­a­ra­tions prompted Shang­hai’s Min­hang


Dis­trict Civil Af­fairs Bureau to fa­mously put up signs cau­tion­ing, “Pro­ceed care­fully with di­vorce due to a risky real es­tate mar­ket.”

And some fake di­vorces can prove all too real. In March, 44-year-old Beijing res­i­dent Mr. Li sued his ex-wife Ms. Wang for the apart­ments Wang took in her name, af­ter they di­vorced in or­der to dodge re­stric­tions on pur­chas­ing a third prop­erty. But post-di­vorce, Wang re­fused to re­sume the nup­tials. Th­ese sit­u­a­tions have be­come so rec­og­niz­able that a fake di­vorce turned real formed the plot of re­cent hit I Am Not Madam Bo­vary, which went on to win Best Pic­ture at the Asian Film Awards.

Sim­i­lar cases spring up ev­ery day across the coun­try. We in­vited two ex­perts to weigh in on the topic of fake di­vorce, and whether it’s a rea­son­able move to max­i­mize profit—or a recipe for mar­i­tal may­hem.

In Chi­nese, the char­ac­ter for fam­ily is “家,” which con­sists of a roof and a pig un­der­neath. The pig rep­re­sents an im­por­tant part of the fam­ily’s liveli­hood. A fam­ily there­fore sig­ni­fies peo­ple liv­ing un­der the same roof to pur­sue a pros­per­ous life. The char­ac­ter clev­erly com­bines both spir­i­tual and ma­te­rial el­e­ments to form a fam­ily. Who­ever coined this char­ac­ter, how­ever, never would have ex­pected “fake di­vorce” to be­come a trend. In this sense, divorcees give up the spir­i­tual el­e­ment for ma­te­rial ben­e­fit.

To bet­ter un­der­stand this phe­nom­e­non, the first ques­tion we must con­sider is if the pol­icy has af­fected the sta­bil­ity of mar­riage.

Though pur­chas­ing re­stric­tions have led to some fake di­vorces, they have not nec­es­sar­ily shaken the sta­bil­ity of mar­riage in gen­eral. If a fam­ily has only one apart­ment, many peo­ple will be dis­cour­aged from get­ting di­vorced. Those in bet­ter eco­nomic cir­cum­stances are more open to the op­tion be­cause, if they own two houses, each can get one af­ter they split. The most im­por­tant eco­nomic con­cern in a di­vorce, hous­ing, is re­moved.

From a long-term point of view, if price-con­trol poli­cies be­come ef­fec­tive

With “fake di­vorces” prov­ing a pop­u­lar loop­hole for gam­ing the hous­ing mar­ket, we ask ex­perts if th­ese ar­range­ments guar­an­tee an even split中国式“假离婚”背后的复杂真相

and peo­ple no longer pur­chase houses as in­vest­ments, fewer peo­ple will get fake di­vorces…i’ve read a study that sug­gests cou­ples are less likely to get di­vorced dur­ing eco­nomic de­pres­sions. Does that mean we should ac­tively cre­ate re­ces­sion to strengthen mar­riages?

From the per­spec­tive of the re­la­tion­ship, when mar­riage is no longer a goal but a tool to achieve some­thing else, the in­sti­tu­tion it­self be­comes de­pre­ci­ated. In fact, mar­riage is in­deed not the ul­ti­mate goal. The most re­stric­tive sys­tem en­sures the low­est di­vorce rate, but does it mean

Legally, fake di­vorce car­ries a very high risk. Once things go south, it’s dif­fi­cult to pro­tect your rights. Af­ter the cou­ple re­ceives the di­vorce cer­tifi­cate, or the di­vorce me­di­a­tion from the court, the mar­riage is dis­solved. Nei­ther the court nor the Bureau of Civil Af­fairs will in­ves­ti­gate your in­ten­tions, no mat­ter what they are.

Legally, there’s no such thing as a “fake di­vorce.” Even if it sur­faces af­ter­wards that the ar­range­ment was to evade debt, em­i­grate abroad, or for the sake of chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, the cer­tifi­cate and me­di­a­tion won’t be can­celled. The ter­mi­na­tion of the re­la­tion­ship can­not be manda­to­rily re­versed, which is to say: The law can’t force the two par­ties to re­sume mar­riage.

There was a reg­u­la­tion that al­lowed the Bureau of Civil Af­fairs peo­ple are blessed with hap­pier lives? Of course not. There­fore, sta­ble mar­riages are ad­vo­cated but it doesn’t mean all pol­icy should be de­signed around that aim.

Se­condly, there are all kinds of fac­tors to con­sider when it comes to mar­riage, and pol­icy is just an­other one of th­ese. Fake divorcees are crit­i­cized be­cause they choose financial ben­e­fit over re­la­tion­ships, but it’s only hu­man na­ture to seek ben­e­fits, which is be­yond re­proach. Let’s not for­get that the fake di­vorce is a de­ci­sion made by both par­ties. To pro­vide for one’s fam­ily is con­sid­ered to with­draw a di­vorce cer­tifi­cate if it was found to be ob­tained un­der false pre­tenses, and de­clare the di­vorce in­valid. But this rule has since been struck down.

Se­condly, the prop­erty di­vi­sion agree­ment of a fake di­vorce is dif­fi­cult to over­turn legally. There’s al­ways a lack of ev­i­dence needed to do so.

Ac­cord­ing to the ju­di­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tion given by the Supreme Peo­ple’s Court re­gard­ing the Mar­riage Law, [di­vorce] agree­ments can only be voided if there proves to be co­er­cion and fraud­u­lence. How­ever, is fake di­vorce fraud­u­lent? There’s dis­pute in ju­di­cial prac­tice. In some cases, the court has de­cided that the prop­erty can be re­dis­tributed be­cause there was no real in­ten­tion [to di­vorce]. But in other cases, courts have con­firmed the orig­i­nal agree­ment be­cause fake di­vorce is not con­sid­ered fraud. more im­por­tant than the mar­riage per se. Oth­ers may get di­vorced be­cause of ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances (bank­ruptcy, debts etc.) to pro­tect the other party. This does not de­value their mar­riage; in­stead, it shows the strength of the re­la­tion­ship.

Faced with the same re­stric­tions pol­icy, some cou­ples are un­moved; oth­ers are will­ing to get a fake di­vorce, which means giv­ing up the le­gal pro­tec­tion of their union. As long as they are clear-headed mak­ing th­ese choices and will­ing to take re­spon­si­bil­ity, no one should be blamed for their ac­tions.

Ob­vi­ously, un­fair agree­ments can be voided ac­cord­ing to civic laws and the Con­tract Law, but when it comes to di­vorce agree­ments, such re­quests are not al­ways sup­ported. Main­stream ju­di­cial opin­ion doesn’t con­sider di­vorce agree­ments as en­tirely equal to financial agree­ments. With both par­ties’ emo­tions, fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and other is­sues in­volved, it’s im­pos­si­ble to de­cide if such an agree­ment is fair based solely on prop­erty di­vi­sion.

Sign­ing a sup­ple­men­tary agree­ment to the di­vorce ar­range­ments is a way to pro­tect your rights, but in re­al­ity, most peo­ple have no no­tion of do­ing this, be­cause they haven’t re­al­ized the full risk of a fake di­vorce. Even if you did sign one, I’ve see peo­ple lit­er­ally tear them up be­hind their part­ner’s back once they are di­vorced.

What­ever your best in­ten­tions, once you get di­vorced, it’s for real. And you can’t force the other party to re­marry. If that’s a con­se­quence you are un­able to bear, do not say yes to a fake di­vorce.


Time is life,” ob­served the renowned 20th-cen­tury writer, trans­la­tor and ed­u­ca­tor Liang Shiqiu. “It is most star­tling to hear a watch or clock click­ing away the sec­onds, each click in­di­cat­ing the short­en­ing of one’s life lit­tle by lit­tle.” For mod­ern peo­ple, life is much like a bat­tle against time. It seems that an in­vis­i­ble power urges us to do

ev­ery­thing quicker, hastier, faster: more “快”( ku3i, quick; fast; rapid; swift).

The char­ac­ter is com­monly used to de­scribe speed. The fre­quently used term for “courier” is 快递 ( ku3id#) mean­ing “ex­press de­liv­ery;” 快餐 ( ku3ic`n) is “fast food;” and快车( ku3ich8) is an ex­press train or bus. Mean­while, 动作快 ( d7ngzu7 ku3i) is to “act quickly” and 说话快 ( shu4hu3 ku3i) means “fast talk­ing.” Based on this, a quick worker is called 快手( ku3ish6u), lit­er­ally trans­lated as “fast hand”—it’s also the name of a pop­u­lar live-stream­ing app (see fea­ture, page 32). For ex­am­ple: Liu is such a quick and neat worker that he is known as “Fast Hand Liu.” How­ever, when it comes to 快嘴 ( ku3izu@, fast mouth), this isn’t de­scrib­ing some­one’s talk­ing speed. In­stead, it refers to peo­ple who voice their thoughts too read­ily, or have loose lips—in other words, a gos­sip.

You may also have heard peo­ple say脑子快( n2ozi ku3i, “the brain is fast”). It means “quick-wit­ted, clever, and nim­ble.” The ter­m眼疾手快( y2nj! sh6uku3i, lit­er­ally, “quick of eye and deft of hand”) is of­ten used to de­scribe fast re­flexes.

If you want to ex­press that you are “do­ing some­thing at top speed”, you can turn to the idiom 快马加鞭 ( ku3im2 ji`bi`n, spurring on the fast horse). For个星期,我们要快马加鞭,按期完成任务。( Z3i zh-zu#h7u y! g- x~ngq~, w6­men y3o ku3im2 ji`bi`n, 3nq~ w1nch9ng r-nw&. In the fi­nal week, we must “spur on the fast horse” and fin­ish the project on time).

In some other cases, 快 also in­di­cates a fu­ture tense, mean­ing “soon” or “be­fore long.” For ex­am­ple, you can say :我快要五十岁了。( W6 ku3iy3o w^sh! su# le. I am about to be 50.)

An­other mean­ing of 快 is “sharp; keen.” A sharp knife is 快刀 ( ku3id`o). A Chi­nese say­ing states that “快刀斩乱麻”( ku3id`o zh2n lu3nm1), which can be trans­lated as “cut a tan­gled skein of jute with a sharp knife.” This old-fan­gled pearl of wis­dom means that one should be res­o­lute and take prompt mea­sures in or­der to solve a com­plex prob­lem.

But 快 didn’t al­ways have th­ese keen con­no­ta­tions. Its orig­i­nal mean­ing was “pleased, happy, sat­is­fied.” As a pic­to­pho­netic char­ac­ter—where one com­po­nent car­ries the mean­ing and an­other the sound—its rad­i­cal忄, a sim­pli­fied ver­sion of 心 ( x~n, heart), in­di­cates that 快 is an emo­tion-re­lated word. Many two-char­ac­ter words con­tain­ing 快have this mean­ing, such as 快乐 ( ku3il-, happy), 快活 ( ku3i­huo, jolly, merry, cheer­ful), or 快感 ( ku3ig2n, apleas­ant sen­sa­tion or de­light). There is also the lit­er­ary ex­pres­sion快事 ( ku3ish#), mean­ing “an oc­cur­rence that gives great sat­is­fac­tion or plea­sure.” For in­stance, 他乡遇故知,实乃人生一大快事!( T` xi`ng y& g&zh~, sh!n2i r9nsh8ng y! d3 ku3ish#! It is such a de­light in life to en­counter an old friend in a dis­tant land!)

In this mean­ing, be­ing served a sneak peak or trailer of a film is 先睹为快( xi`n d^ w9i ku3i, con­sider it a plea­sure to be among the first to read or see); hurt­ing one­self will lead to 亲痛仇快( q~nt7ng ch5uku3i, sad­den one’s close friends and glad­den one’s en­e­mies); when virtue is re­warded it 大快人心( d3ku3i r9nx~n, glad­dens the peo­ple’s hearts). The most in­ter­est­ing use of this ex­ists in the word快婿 ( ku3ix&). With 婿 ( x&) mean­ing son-in­law, the word refers to an ideal match for one’s daugh­ter.

When the char­ac­ter is used to de­pict a per­son­al­ity, 快 means “straight­for­ward, forth­right, and plain­spo­ken,” as seen in words like 爽快 ( shu2ngkuai, straight­for­ward and out­spo­ken).

Here we have the phrase 快人快语( ku3ir9n ku3iy^), mean­ing “straight­for­ward talk from a straight­for­ward per­son,” which is usu­ally used to flat­ter peo­ple face-to-face: “您快人快语!跟您聊天真是痛快”( N!n ku3ir9n ku3iy^! G8n n!n li1oti`n zh-nshi t7ngku3i! You are such a straight­for­ward per­son, talk­ing straight­for­wardly! It’s such a plea­sure to talk with you!)

Last but not least, some­times 快 is also a noun. In an­cient times, a sher­iff was called捕快 ( b^ku3i), re­fer­ring to a con­sta­ble who caught crim­i­nals. But this word is no longer used for po­lice­men in mod­ern so­ci­ety. What do peo­ple call the cops now? That’s a les­son for an­other day.

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