A CHINESE man has been ordered to pay his ex-wife more than €6,300 for years of housework, which, according to a landmark ruling in a recent divorce case, counts as unpaid work.
The decision has sparked furious debate throughout China, where it has no doubt left some people bewildered, overjoyed, or annoyed, depending on who you ask.
Under the country’s controversial new civil code, which came into force this year, divorcing spouses are entitled to request compensation if they bore more (unpaid) responsibilities at home than their partner.
Wang, the plaintiff in the case, told the Beijing court that during five years of marriage she "looked after the child and managed household chores, while (her husband) Chen did not care about or participate in any other household affairs besides going to work".
Making use of the new legal tools at her disposal, Wang submitted a claim for extra compensation for housework and childcare duties, according to a 4 February court statement.
The court ruled that Wang had played a greater domestic role than her husband and should therefore receive 50,000 yuan (€6,370), sole child custody, and an additional 2,000 yuan in child support each month.
Despite this ruling, Wang was adamant – after originally requesting 160,000 yuan (€20,000) – that her time was worth more than the court had offered her, and so she has appealed.
In addition to its historic significance, the ruling sparked a lively and widespread online debate over the value of women's unpaid domestic labour.
The hashtag "stay-at-home wife receives 50,000 yuan housework compensation" is currently trending on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent to Twitter.
"Women should never be stay-at-home wives ... when you divorce, you are left with nothing whatsoever. 50,000 yuan in housework compensation is rubbish," one user opined.
"A full-time nanny could cost more than this for half a year, are women's youth and feelings this cheap?" another wrote.
The financial sum reflected the length of the couple’s marriage plus "the effort Wang put into housework, Chen's income and the local cost of living," according one of the judges quoted in local media.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that Chinese women spend almost four hours doing unpaid labour per day – on average, 2.5 times that of men.
Similar statistics can be found in Ireland, where a 2019 study found that 45 per cent of women, as opposed to 29 per cent of men, provide regular unpaid care to children and elder adults.
The new legislation reflects the faltering status of marriage in China more broadly. Breakups have become more commonplace over the past two decades as divorce laws were liberalised and women attained more financial independence.
This breakdown in marital relations has left some in the Chinese Communist Party nervous, as the country attempts to boost birth rates to mitigate the effects of its ageing population.