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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
China loosens up marriage rules
Chinese bride in Tiananmen Square
Marriage was seen as a form of state control
China has relaxed its marriage rules in an important shift for individual freedoms.

Under the new rules, people can get married without permission from their employers and without a medical check.

The change came as president Hu Jintao marked China's National Day with a pledge to expand public participation in politics.

Mr Hu called for efforts to guarantee the people's rights to carry out "democratic election and decision-making", according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The report did not say what was meant by the reference to elections, or if they might include allowing opposition parties.

In Beijing, an unemployed man was taken to hospital after setting himself on fire in Tiananmen Square.

The square was thronged with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating the first day of the week-long holiday, marking the 54th anniversary of the founding of communist-ruled China.

With 36 million people expected to travel on China's railways during the so-called "Golden Week", the government is hoping the holiday will boost travel and retail sales. Both were badly affected by the outbreak of Sars earlier this year.

Queuing up to marry

A BBC correspondent in the Chinese capital says that until now, getting married in China was liable to be a bureaucratic nightmare.

Couples wanting to tie the knot had to have the blessing of their employers.

This could mean long delays, and in some cases permission being withheld if the marriage was not thought to be appropriate.

Under the new rules, couples simply need to produce their identity cards and residents' permits.

Compulsory medical checks before marriage have also been abolished, and divorce has also been made easier.

At a register office in China's second city Shanghai, couples were queuing since early Wednesday morning.

The BBC's Shanghai correspondent says young people were sitting patiently. Most were dressed in polo shirts and slacks or even jeans even though the actual swearing of the marriage vows beneath the five-star crest of the People's Republic is quite formal.

The changes are just the latest moves to give Chinese citizens more control over their lives.

New regulations enforced last month mean that residents of some cities can apply for passports without permission from their bosses.

They can also visit Hong Kong and Macao as individuals, rather than as part of a tour group.

These changes are extremely popular, as people resent state micro-management in their lives.

Indeed, even the official media say these moves address the need to return rights to the individual.

But human rights groups warn there is still a long way to go.

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