Living in sin? Shacking up with a laowai without them all-important marriage papers? Girlfriend extorting you to get married to "make her honest"? Relax and get back to heavy petting on the couch without fear, you're no longer subject to arrest for your behavior.

In a somewhat bizarre twist to February's now notorious crackdown on the sex trade in the southern city of Dongguan, officials were forced to respond to rumors that overzealous cops were not only arresting those directly involved in prostitution, but rounding up unmarried, cohabitating couples as well. Rumor-mongers had the cops sending 7,000 couples to the Big House to do three months' time for their crimes.

The authorities' answer? Hogwash. Living together ain't no crime.

The Beijing News hit up Renmin University Associate Professor of Law Li Fenfei to ask about the current legal status of cohabitation in China. Professor Li said that as long as both parties are unmarried, shacking up is perfectly legit. Even if one party is married, the issue is not subject to criminal prosecution, but rather a civil complaint that requires someone (presuambly the spouse left on the outside) to file a legal complaint in order for officials to take any action.

This is a far cry from as early as a decade ago, when a Chinese woman bringing a boyfriend back to her apartment might result in nosy neighbors reporting the woman to the local paichusuo, who would then take her in for questioning (I speak from experience).

Actually, shacking up hasn't formally been a crime since 2003. The last time any law prohibiting cohabitation was still on the books was 1989, The Beijing News reports.

By 2001, Chinese marriage law was modified to say that cohabitation called for no particular punishment, but that such cases should be handled by either requiring the couple to get married or asking them to cease their living arrangements. Common law marriages are not recognized in China.

Finally, at the end of 2003, the Supreme People's Court issued a legal interpretation indicating that the court would no longer hear cases on people suing to dissolve cohabitation. As The Beijing News deftly intreprets in their article, this indicates the courts percieve this as an entirely personal matter.

Now go back to snuggling!

Photo: Flickr user Snarkhunt

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