MARRIAGE IN CHINA

MARRIAGE IN CHINA

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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.

A survey released in July 2013 by Peking University found a drastic change in the cohabitation rate of couples before marriage: It was 1.8 percent in 1970, in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, but had risen to 32.6 percent by 2000. [Source: New York Times, July 19, 2013 <^>]

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

Asian Marriages

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]

In the article “Between State and Service Industry: Group and Collective Weddings in Communist Shanghai, 1949–1956 in the journal Twentieth-Century China, Jennifer E. Altehenger investigates the Shanghai wedding industry in the early 1950s by combing through municipal archives to dissect the ways in which commercial wedding shops rebranded their businesses as they learned about the cultural goals of the new Maoist regime. Meanwhile, officials conducted their own debates about how to standardize wedding ceremonies and induce people to register their marriages. Together, for their own reasons, commercial firms and government units promoted group or collective weddings. The response among the people of Shanghai, however, was lukewarm. [Source: Between State and Service Industry: Group and Collective Weddings in Communist Shanghai, 1949–1956 Jennifer E. Altehenger Twentieth-Century China, Vol. 40, No. 1: 48-68]

In 1989, nationwide official statistics show that 9,851,000 couple applied for marriage; 9,348,000 couples, about 95 percent, were approved and given a marriage certificate. In the same year, 1,307,000 couples applied for divorce; 752,000, about 58 percent, were approved and given divorce certificates. The marriage rate was 16.8 per 1,000 persons and the divorce rate 1.35 per 1,000 persons. =

Traditional Ideas About Marriage in China

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Among parents, the father was supreme. Although there is some evidence that China was at one time in prehistory dominated by matrilineal tribes, patriarchal structures were firmly established by the dawn of the historical era. The family name, or surname (which precedes the personal name in Chinese, perhaps symbolizing the priority of family over individual), was passed through the male line. Married women effectively entered the families of their husbands and were “lost” to their natal families. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“Kinship was more than a matter of birth, it could also be forged through marriage. China was relentlessly “exogamous”: that is, two people of the same surname could not marry no matter how distant their relation, even if there was no known relation at all. A marriage was first and foremost a contract between two independent corporate groups. For this reason, the selection of marriage partners was always viewed as a family rather than as an individual matter. Love and romance were well known phenomena, but largely separate from marriage. Marriages were arranged by the parents so as to yield the greatest benefit to the extended family; the bride and groom were often not even consulted before the engagement. The divorce rate was low. /+/

“The political nature of marriage lay behind the “polygamous” nature of Chinese society. Men of wealth and status not only could afford to support more than one wife, they remained in demand even after marrying several women because they continued to be viewed principally as sources of power and patronage, rather than as sources of loyal affection. From the point of view of women, being one of a group of wives and “ concubines” (secondary mates) was not only inherently demeaning, it fostered bitter competition. Only one woman could be designated as the “principal wife,” whose son would be the principal heir, but that designation could be shifted by the husband at any time. In wealthy families, this made for a grisly psychology, and in high political circles where a throne was at stake it made assassination a popular sport.” /+/

Traditional Chinese Marriages

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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

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Marriage laws poster
Although China has a long history of polygamy, in contemporary mainland China, only monogamy is legal and morally permissible except to a limited degree among some minorities such as Tibetans who still practice polyandry (a woman with mutiple husbands). On May 1, 1950, the new Marriage Law was promulgated. It stated that “The New-Democratic marriage system, which is based on the free choice of partners, on monogamy, on equal rights of both sexes, and on the protection of the lawful interests of women and children, shall be put into effect,” and that “Bigamy, concubinage, child betrothal, interference with the remarriage of widows, and the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriage, shall be prohibited.” The revised marriage law of 1980 followed the same principles as the 1950 law. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality hu-berlin.de/sexology =]

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]

Marriage in the Mao Era

In the Mao era, couples were often required to get permission from their employers before they could get married. 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.

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.

Brook Larmer wrote in the New York Times, “A generation ago, China was one of the world’s most equal nations, in both gender and wealth. Most people were poor, and tight controls over housing, employment, travel and family life simplified the search for a suitable match — what the Chinese call mendang hudui, meaning roughly “family doors of equal size.” Like many Chinese who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, Ms. Yu married a man from her factory work unit, with their local Communist Party boss as informal matchmaker. As recently as 1990, researchers found that a vast majority of residents in two of China’s largest cities dated just one person before marriage: their prospective spouse. [Source: Brook Larmer, New York Times, March 19, 2013 ^-^]

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.

Naked Marriage in China

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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.”

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

Desperate Chinese Bachelor Kidnaps Woman on the Street

William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “Some enterprising singles offer their services as rent-a-boyfriends on China’s equivalent of eBay. But one desperate man this year topped them all. According to the Dalian Evening News, a 32-year-old bachelor in the northeastern province of Liaoning kidnapped a woman off the street and tried for 2 1/2 hours to talk her into becoming his wife. All so he wouldn’t have to face his parents’ excruciating Chinese New Year nagging. It was a creepy plan — including 100-foot-long ropes he brought to tie her up — but the man’s intentions, though peculiar, were chaste, at least in his own thinking. After his arrest, the man told police he had already been agonizing about his failures to find a wife, the Dalian newspaper reported. As his new year’s trip home approached, that anxiety only mushroomed. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, February 17, 2015 |=|]

“About 8 a.m., the man, identified only by his surname Liu, lay in wait by the side of a road. A 24-year-old woman walked by. At first he pretended to ask her for directions, then he dragged her into the woods and attempted to subdue her by sitting on her and tying her feet. The woman managed to get her boyfriend on her cellphone so he could hear what was going on. But the sexual assault they probably both feared turned out not to be what Liu had in mind. By the time police caught the man, he had spent 2 1/2 hours trying in vain to convince the woman of his appeal. “I told her I had just bought an apartment and was in the right condition for marriage, and I hoped that she could be my wife,” he reportedly told the police. |=|

“Reaction on Chinese social media ranged from anger over the assault on a woman to questions about the mental health of the man to commiseration over the unrelenting pressure in China to find a mate. Now that the man is in jail, one commenter on China’s Weibo site joked, at least now “you don’t have to worry about parents nagging you to get married!”

Older Women, Dating and Marriage in China

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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

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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

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“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]

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“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]

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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."

Joking About Chinese International Marriage

Raymond Zhou wrote in the China Daily, “A Sina Weibo user who calls himself "Brother Cui in North America" wrote an assessment of foreigners marrying Chinese women. It spreads like wildfire partly because of its self-deprecating humor, which is not exactly a Chinese characteristic. Cui, verified by Sina as a Peking University graduate currently based in the US, seems to have set his eyes on a career similar to Joe Wong, the Chinese engineer who made his name with his Stateside standup comedy routines. So, Cui’s much reposted treatise on the hidden repercussions of transnational marriages should probably not be taken at face value. But like all humor or satire, it contains a kernel of truth — or in this case, a moment of epiphany to most Chinese. [Source: Raymond Zhou, China Daily, November 9, 2012 /*/]

“Cu's first word of caution to those interested in having a Chinese wife: "Once you marry a Chinese woman, you're marrying her whole family. In half a year, her mom and dad, her second elder sister and her children, will line up to come to America. A hundred years ago, first there was one Chinese worker who went to San Francisco to build a railroad, and now, lo and behold, California has a million Chinese. Which country in the future dares to invite Chinese to build their railroads?" /*/

“If an American politician had used this tone, the Chinese-American community would have jumped up in protest. In the US, ethnic humor is the territory of ethnic-minority comedians. Cui must have counted himself as one. But his jokes are actually designed for Chinese consumption, and as such, they display more accuracy and objectivity than previous descriptions of such marriages, which went to one of two extremes, either friction-free bliss or doomed failure. /*/

“Cui went on with his litany of backlashes, which include the dazzling array of Chinese kitchenware and Chinese sauces in an otherwise American home. OK, this sounds like a not-so-subtle approbation of the Chinese culinary art. But there is a definite downside, and that is the painful loss of privacy with the cohabiting in-laws. Your father-in-law may burst into the toilet you’re using and he may nonchalantly wash his hands and practice English with you, never finding it awkward, describes Cui. In Hollywood movies, the visit by an in-law is portrayed as a mini-apocalypse. So, if you get a Chinese spouse, you’re probably psychologically set for such a prospect — not just a brief visit, but an extended stay by your parents-in-law. /*/

“The language barrier is the most formidable one. Other than that, in my opinion, it is more a generational gap, with many of the quirks recited by Cui commonplace even inside China. For example, old folks tend to be frugal and turn off the light as they leave a room; they tend to see things like the carpet as a luxury item and insist on covering it up with a plastic sheet to prevent it from wear and tear.” /*/ 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.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated September 2016

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