After the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949, the country's new Marriage Law also explicitly provided for lawful divorces. Women were permitted to divorce their husbands and many did, sparking resistance from rural males especially. Kay Ann Johnson reported that tens of thousands of women in north central China were killed for seeking divorces or committed suicide when blocked from doing so.
During the Mao era (1949–1976) divorce was rare, but in the reform era, it has become easier and more commonplace. A USC U.S.-China Institute article reports that the divorce rate in 2006 was about 1.4/1000 people, about twice what it was in 1990 and more than three times what it was in 1982. Still, the divorce rate in China is less than half what it is in the United States.
One of the most important breakthroughs in the marriage institution were amendments added to the Marriage Law in 2003, which shortened the divorce-application procedure and added legit reasons for divorce, such as emphasizing the importance of faithfulness within a married couple. With the rising divorce rates nowadays, public discussions and governmental organs often criticize the lack of effort in marriage maintenance which many couples express. This is evident, for example in the new 'divorce buffer zones' established in the marriage registration offices in certain provinces, which is a room where the couples wait, as a stage within the divorce application procedure, and are encouraged to talk things over and consider giving their marriage another chance. However, such phenomena don't contradict the increasing permissiveness of the systems and of married couples which lead to the constant growth in divorce rates in China.