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On-line marriage can be a mixed blessing
Updated: 2005-06-07 08:56

Mrs Lin, from Harbin wants a divorce from her husband for being disloyal; furthermore she is demanding 100,000 yuan (US $12,092) in compensation for psychological injuries.

What makes Mrs Lin's case different from the thousands of others filing for divorce in Harbin is that her husband is married to someone else, virtually.

Her husband first met his virtual wife (who he has never met) two years ago when he registered for an on-line marriage game.

This game has taken China by storm, with netizens as young as 12 getting married, having children and buying cars¡ªall virtually of course. Just a bit of fun, or a serious threat to real life marriages? Society is divided.

Accusing Her Husband of Bigamy

Four years ago, Lin, who lived in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, bought a computer and had it connected to the Internet. Later on, her husband, Zhang was fascinated by on-line chatting. He spent a lot of time on it and the first thing he did after returning home was to turn on the computer. Lin, who worked in a school, didn't pay much attention to Zhang's behavior. She said, "At the beginning I thought he was just attracted by the on-line games and he deserved a rest after a busy day at work."

Finally, Lin found that her husband had got married with a woman two years ago and they had a child together on the Internet. To her surprise, when questioned about this, Zhang replied, "This on-line marriage is not real and it's impossible for us to meet each other. Just like on-line chatting, I only do this to pass the time. Take it easy."

¡°I should have paid more attention,¡± Lin said, ¡°Actually, in the past two years he has changed a lot. He didn't care about our family any more and spent all his time with his virtual family." After that, Lin felt that Zhang had betrayed her and they were constantly arguing. One month later, she wanted to divorce Zhang but he refused. Finally she accused him of bigamy and requested 100,000 yuan compensation for psychological injury.

In court Zhang insisted that the purpose of his on-line marriage was only to pass time and he had never been disloyal to his wife.

According to the Marriage Law, only after a couple register in the marriage registry office in person, can their marriage be approved legally. The on-line marriage doesn't meet the requirement of the Marriage Law, so it has no legal status.

Therefore the court approved Lin's application for divorce but rejected her demand for compensation. This case has attracted wide attention from society.

On-line Marriage¡ªA New Fashion

A recent on-line survey by 21cn.com shows that, among the 900 netizens who joined the survey, 93 percent of them yearn to experience on-line love affairs; some 61.2 percent of them have made friends with netizens of the opposite sex and 35 percent of them have on-line lovers.

In March 2000 the website of the On-line Community started the service of virtual families. Since then, scores of Chinese websites have provided a service for on-line marriage. Until February 23, 2004, in the virtual community of The9, a popular on-line game portal with 600,000 registered members, 36,342 of them had registered for on-line marriage and still more members were waiting to join.

The procedure of the on-line marriage is very simple. First of all, both sides should send a message noting their registered names to the staff of the website which provides this kind of service. After being approved, they "get married" successfully and the website will send the couple greeting mail. The couple's registered names will be listed on the virtual community daily. Some websites even provide many classical proposal words for those who are looking forward to the on-line marriage.

Usually the wedding is held in the on-line chat room and the "priest" in the virtual community is invited to host the ceremony. The couple's friends on the Internet enter the chat room and greet them. After the "marriage," the couple can have or adopt their virtual sons or daughters.

According to the report of China Women's News, so far, more than 100,000 Chinese have registered for on-line marriage on the Internet. It¡¯s sudden popularity has had a strong influence on traditional marriage in real life.

A 'Killer' of Marriage and Families?

According to the statistics of the Intermediate People's Court of Nanjing City in Jiangsu Province, the first divorce cases due to on-line love affairs and on-line marriages were filed three years ago in the city and the numbers has increased rapidly since. In 2002 there were about 20 cases in all while there were more than 80 cases in 2003. Furthermore, in the first five months of 2004, there were 151 cases with 80 percent of them happening in urban areas.

The Information Times reported on February 23, 2005 that 30 percent of the marriage troubles in Guangzhou were caused by on-line love affairs.

Some judges from district courts of Changsha City, Hunan Province, believed that the on-line marriage has become a dangerous "killer" of marriage and families in real life.

As a matter of fact, even netizens have different views on on-line marriage.

A netizen, Jing Hong gave her opinion, "The on-line marriage is just a kind of game in the virtual world. Actually, the course of on-line marriage is quite similar to the real one. Except for meeting each other, almost all things in real marriage can be done virtually. If the couple can't stand each other anymore, they can divorce and marry others in the virtual community. Frankly speaking, it's interesting and I like it."

Xiao Bei, another netizen expressed his disagreement, "Many people don't take the on-line marriage seriously. They believe that it only exists on the Internet and has nothing to do with real life. However, the fact that some marriage crises are caused by the on-line marriage concerns me . If a person would chat with the virtual spouse on the Internet rather than talk with their real spouse, it's inevitable that his or her family will break down. In my view, psychological affairs are more serious than sexual affairs."

Xia Yuan, a freshman from a university in Hubei Province said, "The virtual community of The9 is popular among my classmates. There you can have a home, a job and you can also get married¡ªof course virtually. I often take part in my friends' virtual weddings. However, I have never experienced the on-line marriage myself. I take marriage seriously and I don't want to marry somebody casually on the Internet, even if it is not real."

"To begin with, most netizens involved in the on-line marriage are sane. They think of it as a pass time and don't take it seriously. However, after a while, a number of them become emotionally dependent on it," commented Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist from Renmin University of China. Therefore, Zhou suggests, people should be cautious when facing "the seductive and deceitful on-line marriage."

Professor Yang with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences stated that in her opinion, "The popular virtual marriage game on the Internet has a big influence on real marriage's stability. It's all right to take this as a bit of fun, but people should not get addicted. After all, cherishing your real marriage is the foundation of a happy family life."

'Dad, I¡¯ve already Been Married Three Times'

Most netizens involved in the on-line marriage are young people, including a number of middle school students.

February 14, 2005 is the traditional Western Valentine's Day. On that day, Mrs Wang found her daughter, 16, was playing a game of on-line marriage. She had bought diapers, milk powder and invited the midwife virtually, preparing for her virtual son's birth. Later, Wang was surprised to hear that her daughter had already been married three times to men in the virtual community.

Like Wang's experience, more and more parents and teachers are seeing the impact of on-line marriage on teenagers.

Mr Sun is an electrical engineer from Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. One day his 12 year old son phoned his classmate. Sun was greatly shocked to overhear that his son had also already been married three times. However, the boy told his father that it was just a part of on-line game and didn't want to say more. "I am puzzled by this and feel afraid it will influence my son's studies."

Teaching in a junior middle school of Nanjing, Miss Zhao was equally shocked at the beginning of the new semester in September 2004 to find out that holding weddings, buying houses and having children had become her students' hot topics. After investigation, she discovered that almost half of the students in her class had registered for on-line marriage on a website during the summer holiday. Everyday they spent several hours living family life virtually with spouses on the Internet.

Doctor Xu, a sociologist from Nanjing University explained the reason for the above problem: "Nowadays, most middle school students are the only child in their families and lack sufficient communication with outside world. The thoughts of teenagers are always changing. However, their parents are usually too busy to talk with them. The endless Internet satisfies their various psychological needs, including yearning for communication and acknowledging the world. Sometimes teenagers look forward to adult life, such as marriage, which they can hardly realize in their real life. Therefore, they turn to on-line marriage.

"I suggest parents should communicate more with their children, know about their children's psychological development and prevent them from getting addicted to the virtual marriage."

"The psychosocial influence of the on-line marriage on middle school students is obvious and it's very urgent to help them get rid of their addiction to virtual marriage," said Luo, a researcher with the research institute of teenagers' psychology in Shenzhen.

"It's too early for those teenagers to experience adults' life. The on-line marriage service provided by some websites covers almost all elements of marriage except for the responsibilities. People should take responsibility after marriage. On the contrary, the rules of those websites allow netizens to choose lovers, marry and divorce easily and casually. This may leave teenagers a wrong impression of marriage."

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