Once upon a time in China, marriage was the norm for most adults once they reach a certain age.
But this no longer seems to be the case, as data from 2021 shows that there are more than 260 million single people in China, and the number keeps climbing. This, of course, has drawn quite a few complaints from Chinese parents who are devoted to putting their unmarried children on the market as soon as possible.
One place to spot such a scene is the marriage corner at Zhongshan Park. This “marriage market” of sorts happens every Thursday and Sunday.
Finding the place is super easy. It’s about a seven or eight minute walk from exit B of Tiananmen West subway station. Enter the park through the west entrance and turn left, and walk until you see a huge group of people with posters everywhere. This is the Zhongshan Park marriage corner.
The minute I stepped inside the park, I was overwhelmed by people and thousands of posters lining the ground. Then I heard parents humming with the same questions: Do you have a son or daughter? How old? What kind of job?
Although I was awestruck experiencing something like this for the first time, it seems like many people are quite into the joy of hunting for a potential match for their kids, and have already become regulars as they greet each other with a smile. “I haven’t seen you for a while! Still haven’t found any match for your kid?” one dad said jokingly when seeing another regular.
The prerequisites emphasize specifics such as minimum height, income, and education.
Here’s what a typical poster might look like:
“Unmarried man seeking woman: Woman should have a Beijing residence, with a bachelor’s degree and a stable job, with a minimum height of 1.64m. Good personality. Healthy.”
Even though the photos don’t really say anything, you can immediately tell that there are certain preferences. Beijing locals are definitely top of most parents’ lists. Many signs will highlight a Beijing native looking for a partner in the title. Parents generally frown upon those who don’ t have a Beijing residence permit, aka a 户口 hukou.
I witnessed this bias in action. One mother found a poster for a potential match that was to her liking, and began to chat with the woman who made it. But just when they were about to exchange numbers, the lady quickly declined her offer after learning her daughter isn’t from Beijing. “My son will only date someone from Beijing,” she said.
Age is another important factor. The general expectation is that men will not seek women who are older than them. Parents also don’t want partners who are significantly older or younger than their children. The funny thing is one woman thought I was looking for a partner and was willing to show me her son’s photo, but soon lamented that I was way too young for her son after she inquired about my age. “My son is almost 12 years older than you!” she said.
Her remark soon drew the attention from another woman who was not shy about speaking of her own daughter’s excessive demands. “My daughter has too much to ask from a guy and she is always eyeing those who are way out of her league,” she said. “I really don’t understand what girls these days are looking for in a guy.”
Her response soon generated more input. “I think kids today are searching for a specific kind of feeling. My daughter just wants to find a handsome guy,” one mother remarked. But another mom disagreed. “My daughter is quite the opposite, and she really couldn’t care less about a guy’s appearance. She only wants me to hook her up with candidates who are financially well-off.”
That goes back to the entire discussion of an emphasis on material wealth at these markets. A lot of the posters read that the children’s parents own both a car and a house and they are looking for someone with similar qualifications.
And if you fail to meet one of these qualifications? Well, what you will get is an immediate “swipe left” moment, and the parents will walk away from you or tell you straight to your face that you are not a good fit for their kid.
But what’s the success rate at a marriage market like this? Well, as you can probably imagine, they are quite low. Why? According to one dad, the reason is that kids rarely see eye-to-eye with their parents. “What parents want for their kids is completely different from what their kids want. It takes two to tango,” he said.
Do kids know that their parents are trying to get them married off through this sort of market? Most of them are aware of their parents’ visits to the park. I talked to one mother brandishing her daughter’s profile that read: A girl in her early 30s is looking for a guy. She expressed frustrations with her daughter. “My daughter didn’t want me to put up a poster like this at first,” she said. “But she eventually gave in because she is getting older and the clock is ticking fast.”
Chinese families see matchmaking as an effort to fulfill their parental duty, but few actually believe that they are likely to succeed. Still, it was such a mind-blowing experience for me.
Should parents be open-minded about what their kids want instead of imposing their will on their children? Should parents have a say in what their children want when seeking a partner? Let us know in the comments!
Read: China is Encouraging Adults to Consider Moving in with their Parents
Images: Irene Li, Sohu