MARRIAGE IN CHINA
Newlyweds in the 1930s In the old days, marriages and weddings were worked out by families, following rules laid out by ancient traditions. In the Communist era, these details were often worked out by neighborhood councils and work units. These days, families have reasserted their control but individuals getting married probably have more say in marriage matters than they ever had before.
According to a Chinese legend, couples destined to marry have invisible red strings, connecting them, tied around their ankles when they are young children. As they grow older the strings gets shorter and shorter until it is time for them to wed. Nothing can severe the strings "not distance, changing circumstances, or love. Marriage is their destiny."
According to Chinese custom a man should marry a woman who is several years younger than him and should have less education. As a result women over thirty, especially educated ones, traditionally have had only a slim chance of getting married.
In China, women are allowed to marry at 20, and men at 22. These ages are higher than many other countries. About 8.3 million couples were married in China in 2003, only a 3 percent increase from the year before. The average age for marriage in 2001 was 24 for men and 23 for women. In the cities today the average age is approaching 30.
In a survey in 2006 by a dating web site, 25 percent of Chinese brides said they regretted getting married, saying they would have preferred a different husband or staying single. Another survey found that a quarter of the urban, unmarried women wanted to marry but not have children. About 11 percent said they would prefer to stay single. Many men get more excited about getting a cell phone than they do about getting engaged.
A survey in China found that half the men who had sex with men also had sex with women and third of them were married.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinatown ConnectionChinatown Connection ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; warriortours.com : Dating Chinatown Connection Chinatown Connection ; Changes in Chinese Dating on Search Your Love. Com syl.com ; Dating and Sex in China teachabroadchina.com ; Marriage in China.com marriageinchina.com Links in this Website: WEDDINGS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CONCUBINES AND DIVORCE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
For Westerners, marriage choices tend to be based on individual notions of love or romance, or at least that is how we see it. But in much of China, marriage is, first and foremost, about family and community. [Source: Brook Larmer, New York Times, May 3, 2010]
Asians as a whole have traditionally regarded marriages as a bonding of families rather than individuals. People are not seen in the Christian view as individual children of God but rather as members of a family. These ideas are at least partly rooted in ancestor worship and Confucianism.
Weddings in Buddhist areas have traditionally been secular affairs not endorsed the Buddhist clergy. But in some places people feel that their marriage needs a religious endorsement. In many cases this involves monks and nuns chanting sutras after the civil ceremony is completed.
Marriages are not religious events in Buddhism. Sometimes monks are invited so the couple and their relatives can obtain religious merit. The event is sanctioned by the community and relatives and often oriented as much to show respect for parents as sanction the union between a man and woman.
History of Marriage in China
The Marriage Law of 1950 guarantees everyone the freedom to choose his or her marriage partner. Nevertheless, especially in the countryside, there are few opportunities to meet potential mates. Rural China offers little privacy for courtship, and in villages there is little public tolerance for flirting or even extended conversation between unmarried men and women. Introductions and gobetweens continue to play a major role in the arrangement of marriages. In most cases each of the young people, and their parents, has an effective veto over any proposed match. [Source: Library of Congress]
“In the past, marriage was seen as the concern of families as well as of the two parties to the match. Families united by marriage were expected to be of equivalent status, or the groom's family to be of somewhat higher status. This aspect of marriage patterns has continued while the definitions of status have changed. Because inherited wealth has been eliminated as a significant factor, evaluation has shifted to estimates of earning power and future prosperity. The most desirable husbands have been administrative cadres, party members, and employees of large state enterprises. Conversely, men from poor villages have had difficulty finding wives. From the early 1950s to the late 1970s, when hereditary class labels were very significant, anyone with a "counterrevolutionary" background, that is, anyone previously identified with the landlord or even rich peasant class, was a bad prospect for marriage. Such pariahs often had no choice but to marry the offspring of other families with "bad" class backgrounds. At the other end of the social scale, there appears to be a high level of intermarriage among the children of high-level cadres. [Ibid]
“A number of traditional attitudes toward the family have survived without being questioned. It is taken for granted that everyone should marry, and marriage remains part of the definition of normal adult status. Marriage is expected to be permanent. That marriage requires a woman to move into her husband's family and to become a daughter-in-law as well as a wife is still largely accepted. The norm of patrilineal descent and the assumption that it is sons who bear the primary responsibility for their aged parents remain. The party and government have devoted great effort to controlling the number of births and have attempted to limit the number of children per couple. But the authorities have not attempted to control population growth by suggesting that some people should not marry at all. [Ibid]
Traditional Chinese Marriages
Bride groom's family in the 1930s In the late imperial era there were four kinds of marriages: 1) major marriages between a young man and women, involving the payment of a bride-price and a dowry paid by both the groom and bride’s family; 2) minor marriages, in which girls were betrothed at a young age and brought up as a “daughter” in her future husband’s family; 3) uxorilocal marriage, in which a man was transferred to a young woman’s household; and 4) delayed-transfer, in which a woman remained in her family after marriage until her first child was born
In the minor marriages, the girl was forced to have sex with her foster brother when they became teenagers. This custom was mainly done in the south as a way to avoid costly bride-price and dowry payments. Uxorilocal marriage was a way of provided a son for a family that didn’t have any. Delayed transfer marriages were practiced mainly in Guangdong, where the custom was widely practiced by ethic minorities living there.
Confucian customs emphasized moral purity. According to Confucian teaching a woman was supposed to only get married once in her lifetime. Young widows who refused to marry again were often memorialized with their names inscribed on the walls of a temple. Confucius said that individuals with the same name could not marry.
In China there is a tradition of a man making a gift to woman’s family in exchange for marriage. In traditional marriages, the bride’s spouse was chosen by her father. The marriage process began with an exchange of letters between the father of the groom and the father of the bride, followed by an exchange of presents such as golden chopsticks, food and animals.
Marriage Laws in China
Marriage laws poster The Marriage Law of 1950 banned many of the practices associated with traditional marriages: multiple wives, child marriages, the sale of sons or daughters for marriage purposes, arranged marriages, minor marriage, bride-price, and concubinage--and gave women the right to divorce. Monogamy was strictly enforced. Adulterers were often dealt with harshly. Individuals with leprosy and other diseases were considered unfit for marriage.
Many Chinese will tell you that legal age for marriage is 26 for a man and 24 for a woman. But according to Article 5 of the marriage code "no marriage shall be contracted before the man has reached 22 years of age and the woman 20 years of age."
Article 9 of the Chinese marriage code says that "Husband and wife enjoy equal status in the home." Article 12 states that "Husband and wife are in duty bound to practice family planning." There are other articles which states that cousins can not marry.
In the Mao era, couples were often required to get permission from their employers before they could get married. In October 2003, some rules were eased on getting married. Among the laws that were eliminated was the one that required couples to get permission from their employers before they could get married.
Hypergamy and Pressure to Get Married in China
Yong Cai, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Salon.com, “In most societies of the Western world, there is always at least 10-15 percent of the population that remains single, but in China, until the 1980s, that percentage was always less than 1 percent.” [Source: Roseann Lake, Salon.com, March 12, 2012]
Roseann Lake wrote in Salon.com, Basically, marriage in China has the equivalent social force of a steamroller. It’s simply what one does. There are Chinese work units that have an in-house matchmaker who is tasked with pairing off single employees. Almost every day of the week, there are marriage markets in parks around the country where parents and grandparents gather to flip through tomes and tomes of Xeroxed copies listing the names, occupations and salaries of available singles with whom they might be able to pair off their progeny. “We talk about helicopter parents in the U.S., but when it comes to marriage in China, I’d say parents are air hawks,” says Berlin Fang, a cross-cultural commentator. “Sometimes they even drop a few bombs.” [Ibid]
“In addition Lake wrote, “ In China, there’s a deep-seated tradition of marriage hypergamy which mandates that a woman must marry up. This generally works out, as it allows the Chinese man to feel superior, and the woman to jump a social class or two. [Source: Roseann Lake, Salon.com, March 12, 2012]
Urban Marriage in China
Families play less of a role in marriage choices in cities than in the countryside, at least in part because the family itself is not the unit promising long-term security and benefits to its members. By the late 1970s, perhaps half of all urban marriages were the result of introductions by workmates, relatives, or parents. The marriage age in cities has been later than that in the countryside, which reflects greater compliance with state rules and guidelines as well as social and economic factors common to many other countries. People in cities and those with secondary and postsecondary education or professional jobs tend to marry later than farmers. In China it is felt that marriage is appropriate only for those who have jobs and thus are in a position to be full members of society. Peasant youth, who have an automatic claim on a share of the collective fields and the family house, qualify, but college students or urban youths who are "waiting for assignment" to a lifetime job do not. In any case, work-unit approval is necessary for marriage. [Source: Library of Congress]
“Urban weddings are usually smaller and more subdued than their rural counterparts, which reflects the diminished role of the families in the process. More guests will be workmates or friends of the bride and groom than distant kin or associates of the parents. The wedding ceremony focuses on the bride and groom as a couple rather than on their status as members of families. Similarly, a brief honeymoon trip rather than a three-day celebration in which the entire village plays a part is an increasingly common practice. Long engagements are common in cities, sometimes because the couple is waiting for housing to become available. [Ibid]
Arranged Marriages and Matchmakers in China
Traditionally, families had more say in regard to a marriage than the man and woman who were getting married. In the old days, young men and women that liked one another were not allowed to meet freely together. Young people who put their wishes for a mate above the wishes of their parents were considered immoral.
Marriages have traditionally been regarded as unions between families with matches being made by elders who met to discuss the character of potential mates and decide whether or not a they should get married. Marriages that are arranged to varying degrees are still common and traditional considerations still plays a part in deciding who marries whom. One matchmaker told the Los Angeles Times, “Marriage is for the parents, the society and future generations. It’s not about happiness or love.”
Up until a century ago marriage registry forms required the seal of an “introducer.” In the old days, arranged marriages among the upper classes were intended to firm up a family's social position and status and extend the family's social network. Rich men could have as many wives as they could afford. Many marriages were worked out when the bride and groom were still children. Occasionally this occurred before they were born if two families were intent on forming a union.
A traditional Chinese marriage was often set up by a matchmaker hired by the parents when potential bride and groom reached marriageable age. In their search, the matchmakers took various things into consideration: education, family background, and a kind of fortunetelling based on year, date and time of birth. One saying that dates back to the 7th century B.C. goes: “How do you split firewood? Without an ax it can’t be done. How do you go about finding a wife? Without a go-between it can’t be done.”
In a marriage arranged by a matchmaker, the matchmaker hosts a tea where the young couple meet for the first time. The young woman serves tea to the young man and his relatives. If the man likes the woman he can propose marriage by offering her an embroidered red bag on the saucer in which the cup or tea was served. If the woman accepts the saucer she accepts the proposal and the couple is engaged.
There are more than 20,000 matchmaking agencies in China. They have names like the Tianjin Municipal Trade Union Matchmaker’s Association and the Beijing Military and Civilian Matchmaking Service. Some of them are unscrupulous brokers who try to con women into marrying lonely rural men.
Changes From Marriage in the Mao Era
In the Mao Era, marriages were often arranged by neighborhood and work committees rather than by parents. Under these terms many Chinese were able to seek out mates in their community or work place and seek approval of authorities. In other cases authorities told people who they would marry.
See Marriage Law Above
Even though arranged marriages were banned as feudalistic and divorce was discouraged, Mao married three times using an intermediary to seek the approval of his father.
The decline of the government's power over people's lives after the Deng economic reforms has resulted in both a revival of traditional marriage customs and the introduction of Western ideas.
In the Mao era there were not many university graduates around. A factory workers with a stable job and salary was viewed as a good catch. These days a prospective husband is expected to have as a minimum of a decent apartment, a car and 100,000 yuan ($14,640) in the bank.
Naked Marriage in China
Expensive wedding Weddings done on the cheap are known as ‘naked marriages’ in China. One young woman told the China Daily that her wedding day consisted of taking the day off from work to register their marriage and having dinner afterwards to celebrate. Instead of lavish banquet they had a $15 dinner at the restaurant where they first met. She said they had no time for wedding pictures as they had to go to work the next day. The woman said, ‘I’m a naked-marriage lady in the true sense—I didn’t even take wedding leave.’
An Internet posting sited in the China Daily on naked marriage went: ‘No apartment, no car, nor diamond ring; no wedding ceremony, no honeymoon; each of pay 4.50 yuan [66 cents] and we get a wedding certificate to start a new life.’
There are two kinds of naked marriages according to the China Daily: the total; and the half-naked marriage in which the guy gives the girl a ring or something else of value. The trend is becoming more commonplace as high real estate costs make owning an apartment an unreachable dream and the money coules have is needed for scraping by day by day. One woman who at least wanted a ring told the China Daily, ‘I’ll doubt a man’s sincerity if he asks for a girl’s hand in marriage without a ring or a wedding ceremony. If he really wanted too marry her, he should have gotten ready for this: saving money is not an excuse.’
Wang Zhiguo of Baihe.com, China’s largest matchmaking site, told the China Daily: naked marriage ‘teaches young people the core spirit of marriage—love each other deeply, no matter rich or poor’ and emphasizes saving money for other important things like travel and their children’s education. He added though that there was an inherent instability to the custom: ‘If we see marriage as a contract—which includes three items: love, responsibility and a material base—any missing link will lead to some problems in the relationship between husband and wife.’
Parents Making Matches in Parks
Marriage is still viewed as a necessary step in every adult's life and parents are often very much engaged in finding mates for their children. Chinese parents flood public parks, armed with resumes of their unmarried adult children, to meet other parents with children to marry off, hoping to attract good matches. Some meet other parents in parks such as Zhongshan Park in Beijing and exchange notes on height. wealth, education, food preference, Chinese animal sign and even birthmarks and blood type in their search for a good match. "As soon as I hit 22, my mother visited Zhongshan Park every day," Beijing native Xu Qiang, 25, told the Strait Times. "She told me if I delay getting married, I won't be able to find a good wife later."
Parents representing daughters often outnumber parents representing sons by a margin of 10 to 1, mainly because of the biological clock and those with older sons don’t waste their time, and 90 percent of the children the parents are seeking mates for are in their 30s. Parents with tall sons with good jobs or a degree from a prestigious university are often mobbed. The Los Angeles Times reported one 80-year-old woman at the park looking for wife for her 51-year-old son.
Chinese children have different view about their parents search for mates for them in parks. A 27-year-old artist told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m not happy about this. I told my mother not to go to the park. I don’t need her help.” A 23-year-old nurse said, “I have a pretty small circle of friends and no one in sight as a boyfriend. If my parents found someone I’d probably take a look at them.”
Unmarried Men in China
Ninety percent of all unmarried people between 28 and 49 are male. Many are stigmatized as “bare branches that don’t bear fruit.” According to an article in the Global Times, China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission has found that problems such as forced prostitution, abductions and trafficking of women and childrest are highest in places where the sex ratio is skewed against men.
The shortage of men in China due to sex-selected abortions and other reasons theoretically makes it easier for women to be choosy and requires men to work harder. Chen Kiaomin, director of the Women’s Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law told the Times, “In the past people were introduced by relatives, or if they dated a date meant going to a park, Now you have to spend money in restaurants and cafes.”
In the richer coastal areas men look to the poorer west for brides. Brides are also sought in poorer neighboring countries like Myanmar, North Korea, Vietnam and even Russia. [Ibid]
See Bride Shortage, Population
Older Women, Dating and Marriage in China
In a survey of 32,000 people in 2010 by the All-China Women’s Federation 90 percent of men said that a woman should get married before the age of 27. Those that don’t risk being called sheng nu “”leftover ladies.” [Source: Bloomberg News, May 31, 2012]
Bloomberg reported: “Higher learning breeds higher expectations, and the group of well-educated, older, unmarried women has swelled in the last two years, Zhou said. [Ibid] The number of single Shanghai women in their late 20s tripled in the last 15 years, to almost one in three, according to the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy. Nearly 40 percent of college-educated women between 25 and 34 in the city were unmarried in 2005, the center said. That’s compared with 6 percent for women with only junior-school education. [Ibid]
While some women look to marry later, social expectations for a younger bride remain. A survey by Jiayuan.com in Shanghai this year categorized women over 29 as “leftovers.” “Women can be very picky when they’re young,” said Huang. “But if you don’t sell when it commands the highest value, you may miss the golden opportunity. There are so many women for us men to choose from. We really have no reason to pick a 28-year- old when you can find a 26-year-old.”
Marriage Customs in China
Marriages between children, teenagers, cousins and close relatives still occur.
Young male and female members of the Zhuang, Dong, Bouyeu, Miao, Yao, Yi, Va and Jiangpo tribes are permitted to enjoy a "golden period of life" in which premarital sex is allowed and even encouraged. See Minorities
“Marriage on weekends” describes couples that live apart on weekdays to maintain their independence.
Polls show that couples are having premarital sex and living together before marriage more often than in the past. In Shenzhen it is fairly common for couples to live together before marriage or engage in relations jus for sex...Articles in a local woman's paper there have headlines like "I AM NOT A LADY," "ONE NIGHT LOVE" and "A TRAP SET BY AN OLD MAN."
Pre-Nuptial Agreements in China
The first prenuptial agreements have appeared in China in recent years. Some of them have some pretty strict terms. According to the China Daily one read: ‘If the husband has an extramarital affair, he has to pay 200,000 yuan [$29,300] to the wife.’ It also said, ‘If the husband’s mobile phone is not in service, he should report to the wife immediately and apologize; if the husband does not come home one night, he should pay 1,000 yuan to the wife; in case of a quarrel, the husband should always be the one to apologize.’ Needless to say the groom-to-be didn’t sign it and called off the wedding. [Source: Gan Tian, China Daily, June 2010]
The first prenuptial agreements appeared in 1990 according to the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs. Most of the prenuptial agreements in China are drown up women. One that was accepted called for the husband to turn everything her earned, about $3000 a month, to his wife, who in turn would give a $775 a month allowance to her husband. It also said the husband was responsible for washing dishes and ironing clothes while the wife was in charge of cooking and keeping the house clean. The woman who drew up the agreement told the China Daily, ‘It can avoid trouble after marriage. Besides, the couple will love each more, as they know what their duties are.” [Ibid]
Young Men Need a House to Get Married
Jino minority dance David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Many women won't marry a man who doesn't own a home. This recent shift, along with soaring real estate prices, has created a woefully frustrated class of bachelors... Mike Zhang considered himself serious boyfriend material. He knew what to order at an Italian restaurant. He could mix a tasty margarita. And he always volunteered to carry his girlfriend's handbag.Then came the deal breaker. Zhang, a 28-year-old language tutor and interpreter, couldn't afford an apartment in the capital's scorching property market. Rather than waste any more time, his girlfriend of more than two years dumped him. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010]
“Zhang's misfortune is not uncommon. China's housing boom has created a woefully frustrated class of bachelors. Home prices in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai have easily doubled over the last year as families and investors rush to grab a piece of the Chinese dream. A typical 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in the capital now costs about $274,000. That's 22 times the average annual income of a Beijing resident.” [Ibid]
“Unlike in the United States, where home buying traditionally takes place after marriage, owning a place in China has recently become a prerequisite for tying the knot. Experts said securing an apartment in this market signals that a man is successful, family-oriented and able to weather challenging financial circumstances. Put succinctly, homeownership has become the ultimate symbol of virility in today's China.” [Ibid]
"A man is not a man if he doesn't own a house," Chen Xiaomin, director of the Women's Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told the Los Angeles Times. "Marriage is becoming more and more materialistic. This is a huge change in Chinese society. No matter how confident a woman is, she will lose face if her boyfriend or husband doesn't have a house." [Ibid]
Trouble Getting a House in China in a Booming Economy
“Material matters weren't quite so important when previous generations courted. Most Chinese were poor. Property was controlled by the state and homes were doled out through an individual's work unit,” David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “When China was more agrarian, marriages were usually arranged, and it was customary for a bride's family to provide a dowry — be it money, bedding or even a sewing machine.” [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010]
“But economic reform and mass urbanization in the last 30 years have upended these norms. In 1998, the central government launched one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history by allowing Chinese to buy their homes from the state, often with subsidies. The privatization of property spurred the creation of a commercialized housing industry with developers and investors.” [Ibid]
“Young Chinese are coming of age at a time of exploding wealth and rising expectations for material success. In a survey last year on Sohu.com, a popular Web portal similar to Yahoo, 73 percent of respondents said homeownership was a necessity for marriage. An almost equal percentage said they had difficulty buying an apartment.” [Ibid]
Popular Culture, Materialism and Marriage in China
Dating websites are filled with stipulations for a house, and often a car too. "I'm 25 years old, looking for a boyfriend.... I want you to have an apartment and a car.... The apartment has to be built after 2000 and the car has to be better than a minivan," read one post on the popular Chinese Web portal Baidu. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010]
“Growing male frustrations have given rise to a new female archetype: the bai jin nu, or gold-digger,” Pierson wrote. “On the wildly popular TV reality program "Don't Bother Me Unless You're Serious," one woman tried to size up a suitor by asking matter-of-factly, "Do you have money?" The man cut to the chase: "I have three flats in Shanghai."...The hard-boiled bachelorette, Ma Nuo, has gone on to become one of China's most recognizable bai jin nu. Marry for love? Fat chance, said the material girl: "I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on the back of my boyfriend's bicycle." [Ibid]
“Ma's mercenary take on matrimony may be extreme; still, single women in China are driven by intense societal pressure to find a mate who can deliver the digs, ,” Pierson wrote. “Though more women are becoming career oriented, China remains stubbornly traditional. Males are expected to be breadwinners while females rear a family's only child.” "My parents think it's important.... They would rather I marry someone who owns his own property," said Wei Na, 28, an advertising saleswoman in Beijing. "It just makes you feel more safe if a man has his own place. I think most women feel the same way." [Ibid]
Young Chinese Men Dealing with the Problem of Trying to Get a House
"Not everyone has rich parents who can help you buy an apartment," Chen Kechun, a 25-year-old Beijing native told the Los Angeles Times. His relationship disintegrated after his six-month search for an affordable home proved fruitless. "I learned that if a girl decides to marry you, you better have a strong financial foundation,” he said. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010]
“Fang Jing is trying to hold on to his relationship,” Pierson wrote. “The 29-year-old has been trying to persuade his girlfriend to share in the $250,000 cost of a Shanghai apartment so that they can wed next year.” "She didn't agree immediately. She's still hoping I can take care of it myself," Fang said. "But we have to face reality. In Shanghai it's difficult for one person to afford an apartment. When we face something as important as this, men and women have to be equal." Fang will need about $75,000 to afford the 30 percent down payment on the home the couple want. That's a lofty goal, considering that the computer technician is between jobs and has no savings. He's counting on both sets of parents to chip in. [Ibid]
Wang Haijun, a real estate agent on Beijing's east side, said he can always tell when a desperate bachelor walks into his office. "They're always the least rational buyers," Wang said. "They don't care how little money they have. They just want an apartment as soon as possible. They take on a mortgage with the longest terms and highest interest rates. But they have no choice. They have to get married. I feel sorry for them." [Ibid]
Wedding Procession 1908
“Zhang, the language tutor and interpreter, wanted to marry his girlfriend, a receptionist at a language school,” Pierson wrote. “The two shared a love for American TV — "Sex and the City" for her and "Lost" for him. The closer they grew, the more she asked about their future and a home.” "I told her I loved her and would marry her if she didn't mind not having a house," Zhang said. "But she said no. I told her I wanted a house too, but I didn't know how. I'm not rich." [Ibid]
Zhang began checking real estate listings in his neighborhood a year and a half ago. He was stunned. An apartment of about 1,000 square feet cost $150,000. Zhang's parents, who run a modest bakery in northeast China, offered to help. But the $30,000 down payment was still well out of reach. His girlfriend grew increasingly concerned. She wanted to get married while her grandparents were still healthy and could celebrate her wedding. Last December, she called off the relationship. [Ibid]
Zhang took some time to get over the breakup. “He acknowledges he must begin saving money for an apartment, but he resents being judged by his inability to purchase property. He would rather have a woman love him for his charm than for the roof he puts over her head.” "People's values have changed," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a nice guy or you're fun or good natured or have a sense of humor. They don't care. All they care about is a house."
More Educated Chinese Women Seeking Foreign Husbands
Jason Ou wrote in the Straits Times, “More women in China looking for Mr Right in foreign countries are turning out to be well educated and well off. This year the number of marriages between Chinese women and foreigners reached a milestone, surpassing an estimated one million, according to China's media. That compares to just 14,193 transnational marriages in 1982, mostly between Chinese women and Caucasian men. Furthermore, one in two of these women now are believed to have at least college or university education. [Source: Jason Ou, Straits Times, November 15, 2011]
"In the late 1980s, many women, poor and uneducated, took transnational marriage as a way to change their destiny," said Yang Ling, a matchmaking agent in prosperous Jiangsu province. "But now many women who got hitched with foreigners are only children. They grew up in well-to-do families and even went to study overseas. The number of transnational marriages done for materialistic reasons has been dwindling.
About 1,000 women in Jiangsu, all aged below 40, registered their cross-cultural marriages in 2010. Up to 65 percent of them were degree holders, compared with less than 40 per cent in the 1990s, according to a provincial report on such marriages.
Mandy Li, manager of Lion City Marriage Agency in Singapore, agreed that "the landscape has changed", even though some people still have the misconception that most Chinese women who want to marry foreigners are poor and cash-hungry. Her agency has more than 600 female members aged between 25 and 45 from China, and is one of the few local agencies that specialize in matchmaking Chinese with Singaporeans. "Up to 50 percent of my female Chinese customers have higher education,' she said. 'They have white-collar jobs, such as teachers, assistant managers, and even biomedical researchers."
Four in five Chinese women are willing to tie the knot with foreigners if they fall in love with them, according to a Chinese online survey of 3,200 women this month. "If there is chemistry between us, I really don't care if he's a foreigner or not," said Wu Yuxing, 25, a Chinese who earned a master's degree at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. Only 7 percent of those polled put a foreigner's bank account first in a relationship. The rest said they pay more attention to a man's character, lifestyle and career.
Why Educated Chinese Women Are Seeking Foreign Husbands
Jason Ou wrote in the Straits Times, “Some educated Chinese women also say they find foreign men from developed countries often have better manners than men in China.Huang Minjie, 24, who is from a well-to-do family in southern China and was educated overseas, criticized some bad habits of men in China. "Many Chinese tend to smoke in public places, talk very loudly, and often jump the queue. Even those who receive university education or well-dressed people behave like that,' she said. 'I prefer some Europeans who are well mannered and chivalrous."[Source: Jason Ou, Straits Times, November 15, 2011]
Li said 'good manners' of Singaporean men were appealing to many Chinese women. "My customers believe most Singaporeans are polite and kind," she said. "They are not abusive and respect their partners." A love of foreign cultures, especially Western ones, also contributes to the decision of some women in China to marry foreigners. The manager of Guangzhou Romance Matchmaking Service in China, who wishes to be known only as Du, said that his agency has drawn in thousands of Chinese women seeking Caucasian spouses over the past seven years.
"Our customers find the West fascinating. They admire the rule of law, high living standards, and Western cultures," he said. "For those members older than 30 or even divorced, Europeans or Americans are a good choice. Unlike Chinese, they usually don't care that much about their partners' age and past romance."'
An open letter dated three years ago written by a woman who claimed to be an wealthy undergraduate in Shanghai Jiao Tong University, is still widely circulating online today and hotly debated.In the letter, she slammed China as an unfair society and pledged to marry a Caucasian. "China has a lot of millionaires, but how many of them created their wealth by their dedication, wisdom and integrity? What's the good of living in this country? For toxic rice, tainted milk, or recycled cooking oil?" she wrote. "I could buy a villa in China, but how could I buy fresh air?... I just love the towns in the US, vineyards in France, and farms in Britain... I dream of marrying a Caucasian."
Today, many Chinese Internet users still criticize women married to foreigners for disgracing China and for what they call their blind faith in Western culture. "Many of these women regret only after living with foreigners for some time,' said one post on the Internet. 'They just ignore cultural differences at first, and their marriages are doomed."
Fake Partners in China
Finding a new man to take home for the holidays proved surprisingly easy for Lily Li. He had to be reliable, taciturn — and available for a few hundred yuan. "I was not looking for some perfect guy to marry. Just someone tall — my parents like tall guys a lot — honest and not too talkative, so he doesn't say something wrong," explained the 26-year-old. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 20, 2012]
Lunar new year in particular can be a major headache for those returning home without a potential spouse. Pressure on young adults to settle down goes into overdrive, as gathering family members begin the inquisition and line up possible candidates.Taking a boyfriend or girlfriend home is a fast way to curb the speculation, which is why Li, like other twentysomethings, has hired a fake partner through an online agency.
"My parents want me to get married by 30," the office worker explained. "Bringing a 'boyfriend' back home simply means I get less hassle from relatives and my parents will stop worrying about my romantic life." Li will pay him between 500 and 700 yuan (£51-£72) a day — they are still haggling — to accompany her from Beijing to Hunan to meet her parents. "I don't need him to stay long, just one night, New Year's Eve, and he can just say work is busy and he has to go back the next day, like [the guy I hired] last year," she said.
She is keeping the meeting deliberately short to prevent her parents learning too much about him. Although she has vetted him over a coffee, she does not really know him and worries he might turn out to be a thief and steal from her home. Despite such potential drawbacks, the phenomenon has become so well established it has spawned films such as Contract Lover and a hit TV drama, Renting a Girlfriend to Return Home for New Year.
One man touting his services on Taobao — a popular online shopping site — said a "basic programme" of meeting parents and visiting relatives would cost 300 yuan a day. But, perhaps half-jokingly, he offered optional extras including doing chores (for 70 yuan an hour) and drinking China's lethal baijiu spirit with relatives (at 50 yuan per 100ml). Few "couples" will have to share bedrooms — families tend to be conservative in that regard — but some advertisers spell out the non-sexual nature of the deal, to avoid misunderstanding.This may be wise, since one agent offering fake girlfriends for bachelors did appear to have something else in mind: he was persistent in asking an inquirer whether "other services" were needed.
Hu Xingdou, a social commentator at the Beijing Institute of Technology, suggested that the trend for hiring fake partners had emerged from a clash between old and new ideas. Increasing materialism and the pressures of Chinese life made it harder for young people to find a partner, while parents still expected their children to marry young, he said. But it may also reflect another enduring Chinese belief: the importance of being filial. Many people are reluctant to upset their parents by confronting them and would rather pretend to conform.
"Taking someone fake home is definitely not what I want, but it at least can cheer up my parents," said Li Huahua, a 23-year-old graduate from Sichuan who used her nickname to preserve anonymity. "They expect me to have a boyfriend and get married at 26 or 27. Because I'm lesbian and very certain about my sexuality, it's probably more difficult for me to fulfil their demands and more necessary to find a cover."
She has persuaded a male friend to pretend they are a couple so she does not have to hire a stranger. But she still has one major concern: her mother and father might like him. "My parents might accept him as their future son-in-law and ask me to bring him again next year," she said. "It's not easy to have the same guy every time." Image Sources: 1) 1930s pictures, Night Revels, University of Washington; 2) Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; Wiki Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012