My Experience with Marriage in China

I didn’t get married in China!  However, I have learned a lot about the changing attitudes toward marriage in China compared to traditional Chinese attitudes or those of the West.  In my Chinese class we have discussed how Chinese concepts regarding marriage have changed after China’s one child policy went into effect; attitudes changed from adolescents being expected to marry very young to young adults putting off marriage in order to pursue education and careers despite their parents’ desires for them to settle down and start families.

While China’s one child policy has now transitioned into a two child policy, the policy’s clear after effects still loom at the forefront of Chinese society and are currently playing out their roles in shaping Chinese cultural values and concepts going forward.  Specifically, the one child policy has largely influenced the status of women in Chinese society and even more so in the aspect of marriage.

Though the one child policy has created a huge gender imbalance in China (according to an article by the Washington Post, there are currently 115 male babies to every 100 female babies in China), there still exists a crisis surrounding China’s shengnu because of the values instilled in children who were products of the one child policy.

China’s shengnu are the “leftover women” of China; those unmarried women who are older than what Chinese society deems to be the cut off age for marriage.  From what I have heard from roommates and friends, this is usually around 30, although some parents start getting worried when their children reach as young as 26 years old.  China’s shengnu “problem” draws a lot from historical, cultural, and economic contexts, but its reach into modern day life is more extensive than one from the West could imagine.

Can you imagine a “marriage market” in which your parents try to set up dates for you every weekend?

The truth is, it exists, and I’ve been there.

The following pictures are pictures I took from my visit to Shanghai’s marriage market.  Every Saturday and Sunday, parents meet up in Shanghai’s People Square and attempt to arrange dates between their sons and daughters (who are not present).  Hundreds upon hundreds of umbrellas line the paths of the park, each with an “advertisement” for someone’s daughter or son attached.  Most of them describe women, although I did see a few sons looking for dates as well.  The descriptions include details such as year of birth (ranging from the early 70’s to the 90’s), height, weight, education level, residency status, whether or not the candidate owns a house or a car, etc.  There are usually no pictures involved.

This advertisement even lists the occupations of the parents, as well as what the parents/daughter is looking for in a potential match.

Having the opportunity to explore the marriage market on my own after learning so much about the context behind it in class has been such an amazing value add of studying abroad; I’m truly going to miss having these opportunities to see and experience for myself.


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