Modern times make it sometimes difficult to find the right „match“ for a romantic relationship.
In China, marriage has been a matter of arrangement between families. Traditional marriage rituals always involved a matchmaker: the first of the so-called Six Etiquettes (i.e. six traditional ritual pre-wedding steps) was the picking of a matchmaker – mostly after the parents had already found a potential candidate. The matchmaker´s job was to negotiate and settle the conflict of interests of the involved parties, to match the birthdays of both the potential bride and groom, evaluate the bride price and generally pave the way for the wedding ceremony itself.
Today, even the step of looking for a potential candidate can be outsourced – a phenomenon which of course emerges not only in China. The reasons for making use of these services are manifold: lack of time, missing opportunities, demands, and – concerning men – last not least the gender imbalance with something like 117 boys being born for 100 girls.
In a recent article, The Price of Marriage in China, Brooke Larmer reports on this development in The New York Times. It features the story of Yang Jing, a modern matchmaker or „love-hunter“: where and how she looks for potential candidates, about shopping malls being modern hunting grounds, about the demands of the wealthy mostly male clients who “outsource the search for their ideal spouse“ providing lists of requirements for the potential future wife. Bet on the most wanted attributes…. – ah, yes, nothing really surprising: young, white, slim, virginity. The other story in this NYT article, representing the opposite end of the social hierarchy, is about Ms Yu. She, like many other mothers or parents who cannot afford modern matchmakers, gathers regularly, often daily, in parks, showing around pictures of the to-be-married children, advertising their qualities – these „pop-up marriage markets“ with their matching of supply and demand are of course closely associated with contemporary urban life.
Also China Daily covers this topic regularly dealing recently with the flourishing online matchmaking services. Especially for the younger generation these services help them getting away from the obligation and pressure connected with familial arranged blind dates.
This small topic – when being put into context – reflects quite a lot of contemporary social developments: as a consequence of the One-Child Policy more boys than girls are born in China with the resulting gender imbalance making it more difficult for men to find a “match” and also leading to an increasing number of unmarried single men. China Daily quoted from The 2012-2013 Report about Marriage Values among Young Chinese according to which “among the unmarried population in the post-1970s, post-1980s and post-1990s are 23.15 million more males than females. The imbalance between men and women is obvious and the ratio among the post-1970s population is about 2 men for every woman.”
What sounds like an advantage for women in having a much broader choice than ever before has to be relativized: especially educated women, those with a successful career or those in their late 20ies or – perish the thought! – over thirty are very “difficult to place”. Conversely, men without a car or an apartment on their own are in little demand.
The changing life style particularly in the urban centres: traditionally, based on the Confucian ethics the married couple is thought to be the basic unit of society. The interest of the family or the clan is what needs to be respected, not the individual desires or ideas. This concept of the collective being of higher priority than the individual is slowly being weakened within an increasing urban middle class. Moreover, increasing higher education as well as job and career opportunities especially in the cities more and more postpones the moment for starting a family. With young singles still likely being under pressure from parents, this contributes to the existing generation gap.
PS: During research for this topic I have stumbled over a rather quirky sort of marriage – the so-called Ghost Marriage, a marriage in which one or both parties are deceased!