Spousal Abuse: Divorce Litigation and the Emergence of Rights Consciousness in Republican China
AbstractThis article investigates an overlooked aspect of Chinese legal modernity: how legal change influenced changes in individual consciousness. The article traces in particular the emergence of rights thinking in divorce cases from the 1930s and 1940s by examining the process in which grievances about domestic abuse were transformed from mostly informal and inchoate disappointments into formal, legally actionable complaints under the provisions of the Republican Civil Code of 1929–1930. Case records suggest that popular perceptions about the degree of cruelty that was “tolerable” in marriage were shifting as abuse came to be viewed less as a matter of fortune or fate and more of law and justice. The deployment of legal rights by wives seeking to divorce on the basis of intolerable cruelty, however, met with limited success. Judicial decisions mostly affirmed the preservation of marriage, consolidating a modern form of conjugal patriarchy.