Word has been spreading on the Internet about a brand new trend from China — marriage markets. In China, parents are so anxious about finding a dream partner for their offspring that they go so far as to advertise their personal qualifications and requirements.
After the first-ever marriage market took place in Beijing’s Longtan Park in 2004, the phenomenon quickly became widespread. Today, the unique scene — arranged pieces of paper advertising the requirements for a potential match — can be observed in the parks of many Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Shenzhen. The rules are the same everywhere: The suitability of a couple is assessed through matching social class and status, housing and material conditions, and other materialistic elements — love is irrelevant, in the absence of meeting such criteria.
One article posted online highlights the story of Ms. Guo Yingguang, an overseas 34-year-old artist who went to Shanghai’s Renmin Park to find her match for the first time in 2015. She was apparently shocked by the volume of marriage adverts displayed there and the crowds attracted by the “market.” However, observing that the parents who were match-making for their offspring were very unhappy and anxious, Ms. Guo decided to find out why by putting up an advert for herself.
In her advert, Ms. Guo listed all the things she was proud of: “A Master of Science degree from a top British art institute, graduation with honors, independent and humorous character, a good family background,” and that she was “seeking a male with independent thinking, a positive attitude, and financial independence.”
For two years, Ms. Guo participated in the marriage market more than 10 times. She discovered that it was always the parents who participated in the market, while the individuals being advertised were never present. Moreover, the marriage adverts had a commonality — every man was an “owner of a house and car,” while every woman was “beautiful with white skin, and good at cooking,” and included her age.
“The individuals in the adverts are probably unaware of their parents’ match-making efforts. In a sense, the young generation is being displayed for sale at the market,” says Ms. Guo. The culture has even produced a term for those who are single over the age of 30 — “leftovers.” As a “leftover woman,” Ms. Guo felt disrespected, humiliated, and judged by the parents at the marriage market, who verbally abused her with vicious comments, apparently intended with concern to urge her to marry as soon as possible.
“I’m not against marriage. What I can’t accept is that a happy marriage is defined by age. If you don’t marry at a conventional young age, you’re said to be unhappy and your life is deemed a failure. I believe that the most important thing is to be true to oneself. We know our own goals so let’s live by our own judgment,” says Ms. Guo.
What makes for a worthy match, after all? And how does a good match materialize? Why is this phenomenon so widespread across China? These are all questions worth considering.
Translated by Jean Chen and edited by Emiko Kingswell