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Hitch in finding a marriage partner

By Will Gardner | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-07-30 14:22

Traditional matchmaking struggles to keep pace with China's ever-changing way of life

'Lots of media have been coming here," says Mr Zhu, a father in his 60s who regularly attends Beijing's Zhongshan Park matchmaking corner with his 30-year-old daughter. "Around 2 or 3 pm is usually when the crowds come," his daughter, Ms Zhu, adds. It is 1:30 pm yet, there is already a line jostling to look at prospective dates.

The ancient art of xiangqin (相亲 xiāngqīn, matchmaking) is back in the news, following reports recently on the growing materialism, superstition and parental entitlement on display at China's infamous public "marriage markets" (相亲角 xiāngqīn jiǎo, literally "matchmaking corner").

The surge in interest has irritated regulars. "Don't take any pictures; especially don't take any pictures of the names (and CVs) on the ground," a woman surnamed Meng warns us as she passes. "Do it and the old ladies will surround you - they'll run you off. They're afraid of people selling that information."

 Hitch in finding a marriage partner

Zhu and his daughter are among the few in attendance willing to talk openly about the matchmaking corner. Provided by the world of Chinese

But Ms Zhu believes that some are simply embarrassed about being seen. "Young people do come, but they come when the market's about to close, at 5 pm or 6 pm. They're a little self-conscious."

Situated in the northernmost section of the park, up against the 600-year-old moat encircling the Forbidden City, the Zhongshan marriage market feels like an open secret. Scores of people sit guardedly at the curb, beside handwritten CVs advertising their (or their absent children's) age, income, family assets, education and employment history in a puzzling intersection of prudence and imprudence.

Make eye contact and they'll stand with an expectant smile - "Are you looking?" - before sinking back into indifference at discovering their new friend is only browsing, doesn't meet any number of deal-breakers such as age, job type, or household registration status (户口 hùkǒu).

Mr Zhu and his daughter are among the few in attendance willing to talk openly about the matchmaking corner. "I don't have anything to hide," Mr Zhu says.

Mr Li, a 44-year-old entrepreneur from Hunan province, says his efforts to use online dating and matchmaking through WeChat group chats were stonewalled. "Online, you just get dates. They'll eat and drink with you and wave goodbye. On WeChat, just like here, they're asking: How much do you make, how many houses you own. I have two apartments, but they hear it's in Shunyi (a Beijing suburb), and say, 'We won't consider you.' Your apartment has to be within the Second or Third Ring Road."

Li has a deal-breaker of his own, "Just Beijing hukou, everything else is negotiable. It makes it easier for the kids to go to school in the future."

Many others who attended observe a caste system based on hukou location. "Beijingers don't look for them, so it's outsiders who look for (other) outsiders," explains Ms Meng, who speaks with a non-Beijing accent.

Under China's current hukou system - a relic of the planned economy that remains largely unreformed - household registration determines where newlyweds can purchase homes, educate offspring, and even affects prospects as remote as whether their putative children can get into top universities.

Economic considerations, however, are paramount. According to their CVs, everyone at Zhongshan Park attended a major university, earns a high four-or five-figure salary, has a house in their family name, and an important job at (in order of desirability) a State-owned organization, Fortune Global 500 corporation or rising startup in Zhongguancun. But even for families that check all the boxes, Zhongshan Park is no easy place to find a mate.

Neither Ms Zhu nor her father knows anyone who has successfully made a match - though they've heard plenty of talk - but visit anyway because of the increasing "estrangement" of the big city.

"See, Beijing - you live on the east side, I live on the west side, it's basically a long-distance relationship," Mr Zhu quips. "With cross-province relationships, there's high-speed rail. But Beijing? Traffic jams!

"You don't know your neighbors, they don't come and say hello anymore. You don't know what they do (for a living)," he adds, growing more serious. "It's not putting pressure on my daughter, but giving her an opportunity - all of her colleagues are female, how else is she supposed to meet someone?" (Ms Zhu says she has a bachelor's degree and works as a teacher).

It's a reversal of a past still etched in the memory of many: Formerly China's biggest hub of State-operated working places (单位 dānwèi), Beijing is one of many cities grappling with the breakdown of State-prescribed social relations as a result of urbanization and privatization. Finding a partner through conventional means is more difficult. Li came here almost 30 years ago, when his father worked at Capital Steel, Beijing's biggest State-owned enterprise; these days, all he has is his status as a self-made businessman, and it's not quite getting him the acceptance that he wants.

"I started with nothing. Now I have my own company and house," he says. "It spared me little time and energy to get married when I was younger." And so he returns to the matchmaking corner year after year, leaning defiantly against a tree near the end of the path, airing his views to passers-by.

Unlike many, Ms Dong didn't wander away after learning we aren't here to make a match. She wants to talk to young people because her daughter doesn't approve of what she's doing. "I'm here behind my daughter's back," she admits. "I saw a report about this place on TV, and I wanted to see what it was about."

Like Mr Zhu, she's anxious about her daughter's prospects because of the challenges of modern life. "In today's society, cities are getting bigger and bigger, and further apart. Everybody's so busy and has so much pressure," she says. "My daughter was an excellent student, with a master's from Renmin University of China; she has to work so hard at her job, working overtime, there's really no time to look. I wanted to lessen one burden for her."

What she has seen, though, has made her "draw a question mark over the whole process," she says. Can you really find someone here? There's already a generation gap between parents and children - parents come here and meet other parents, but will the kids get along?

"There is no discussion of feelings," she says. "You find out how their families are situated, but you don't know what kind of person they are. You don't even know what they look like; there's no picture most of the time."

Mr Li, an eight-year veteran of the Zhongshan Park marriage markets, says: "Life is just about finding a good enough person to pass the days with - eat, sleep, go to work - not like the matchmaking corner, where it's all about competition."

What Ms Dong regrets is not encouraging her daughter to settle down while she was studying. "She was a straight-A student, so she focused on her studies," she says. "Now she enjoys the single life, busy in her work, and hobbies such as traveling - she traveled to Europe, booking air tickets all on her own - but everyone else is busy with their own lives, too."

Ms Dong's preferred solution harkens to the days of the planned economy: "I think if the government really wanted to solve this problem, they should have different danwei (working places) organize events for single people. That way you'll really meet someone with similar interests and background." Until then, she says self-deprecatingly, fussy mothers and matchmaking corners are necessary evils.

"You think that, at 18, your children will move out and be independent, but it's so exhausting to be a parent today. Now, when she was at schoolit was like a big supermarket, plenty to choose from and plenty of time," she says, growing more introspective. "And what's more, people were more innocent there: They don't have all these ulterior motives and demands when getting to know you."

Tan Yunfei and Hatty Liu contributed to this story.

Courtesy of The World of Chinese,

The World of Chinese

Word box

小伙子, 你有女朋友吗?

Xiǎohuǒzi, nǐ yǒu nǚ péngyǒu ma?

Young man, do you have a girlfriend?



No, I don't have one.


Gěi nǐ jièshào yīgè nǚ péngyǒu zěnme yàng?

How about introducing you a girlfriend?

很好啊, 谢谢!

That's nice. Thanks

Hěn hǎo a, xièxiè!


Nǐ lǎojiā zài nǎlǐ?

Where are you from


Wǒ lǎojiā zài húnán.

I am from Hunan province.

你是做什么工作的? 在北京有住房吗? 有北京户口吗?

Nǐ shì zuò shénme gōngzuò de? Zài běijīng yǒu zhùfáng ma? Yǒu běijīng hùkǒu ma?

What's your job? Is there a housing in Beijing? Do you have Beijing hukou?




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