Parents in People’s Park looking at resumes to fin right spouse for their children.
The Shanghai Marriage Market or, to be politically correct, Matchmaking Corner, takes place every Saturday and Sunday from noon until around five in the evening.
Hundreds of parents hang the “resumes” of their sons or daughters across the park and exchange contact information with parents interested in their child’s romantic credentials in order to plant the seeds for a relationship to blossom.
The process is known as zhenghun, or “marriage seeding.” To them, who their son or daughter marries is a very serious matter, and the seriousness certainly explains their resistance to being filmed or photographed. This is not just some cultural practice for laowai to marvel at: it could be the beginning of their son or daughter’s future happiness.
In order to find out how the process works, I pretended to be an American woman interested in finding a Chinese husband. One of the marriage brokers that line the walkways of People’s Square introduced me and my translator Damian to a little Chinese man who must have been in his mid-to-late 60s. He was very excited to hear that I was interested in finding a Chinese husband.
He had tried finding his son a good Chinese wife, but in his opinion none of the girls were attractive enough for his son. His son is currently in America studying to get his Master’s in computer science, and he has recently decided that he wants to find a nice American girl to settle down with, especially since he wants to stay in America and not return to China.
The father began asking me questions about how tall I am, my age, my level of education, and where in the United States I live. Since his son is thirty-four, Damian told me to say that I was twenty-eight instead of twenty-four, because a ten-year age difference would be considered too large. Since the father (not sure about the son) only required a Bachelor’s degree, the fact that I am currently working on receiving my Master’s seemed to propel me to the status of golden candidate in the father’s eyes.
He started bragging about his son, hoping that I would be interested (the father spoke only a few words of English, so I had to rely on Damian to translate). But mostly the father expressed tremendous concern and fear that his son had so much difficulty finding someone. He was using all the options he had available to him, but even so it is extremely difficult to find an American girl for his Chinese son in America from China. Damian said that the father didn’t make it clear whether or not his son knows that he comes to People’s Square with his resume every weekend.
Though I suspect that a lot of the difficulty lies in the high expectations both father and son share, namely in terms of the girl’s physical appearance. The father claimed that he had yet to find a girl who was attractive enough for his son, and in America the son has apparently been hitting the same dead ends. While the father said that he really just wants to find a good girl, her beauty is important for the children they will have. But having such strict requirements does make finding a wife extremely difficult, not to mention that it means running the risk of passing over some great women who do not exactly fit those requirements.
The father took a liking to me and started showing me the Polaroid pictures he had of his son, which were clearly sent to his father as sort of postcards from the States. They featured a rather chubby but happy Chinese man with glasses, posing in front of various landmarks and monuments across the United States—The Lincoln Memorial, Mount Rushmore. Not that any of the pictures were embarrassing, but I tried to imagine how I would feel about my parents showing pictures of me to complete strangers. Even if they weren’t naked baby pictures, I still find the idea kind of horrifying, and it does seem like many of these parents don’t really take their children’s feelings into account.
Although this isn’t as horrifying as the idea of my parents passing along information about me to strangers who happen to have a nice son they can set me up with. Even so, I did actually find this father’s love and willingness to help his son by any means to be very sweet. These parents are just anxious for the welfare and future happiness of their children and only want the best for them. As the father took down my contact information to send to his son, other Chinese parents in the park began to crowd around us, looking on the Chinese man, the American girl, and her translator with amazement. Perhaps there aren’t many foreigners who utilize Matchmaking Corner.
To ensure my interest and that I would actually contact his son, he made me promises on his son’s behalf, like that his son would be willing and able to move anywhere in the U.S. I got a job or wanted to live. It certainly felt like we were negotiating terms for a business deal, one, that the father hoped, would be a fruitful one. Whether or not these men and women actually accept the matches their parents find them is, for the most part, relative. Damian said most men and women do find this embarrassing, but there are some who are willing to accept their parents’ help and selections they’ve made for them. In this case, the son does seem to be in a desperate hurry to find himself a wife.
I asked Damian if he thought his parents ever posted his resume at the marriage market. “No,” he said, “I’m not good enough.” Damian is 25, doesn’t have his own apartment, has just started working in entry level positions for various PR companies, and doesn’t make a lot of money. “I’m also too short,” he threw in. It’s not just that Damian feels that all his credentials count against him, it’s that he thinks that his parents are not proud enough of his accomplishments to even try to find him a wife at the marriage market. At twenty-five, he doesn’t exactly feel pressure to get married so much as he feels pressure to make enough money to buy an apartment and car so that he is ready to get married when he reaches the appropriate age.
These parents certainly are proud of their children’s accomplishments and credentials. I asked Damian if he thought any of the parents fabricate the resumes to make them more impressive. Damian thought that some parents might put down their children’s annual salary instead of their monthly salary without making any indication of this. Not exactly a fabrication, but not exactly being honest either.
Damian’s insight into why parents feel the need to take part in this is that they feel they need to be doing something to help their sons and daughters, even if it doesn’t work. The reported success rates for established relationships or even finding a match are very low, yet some parents continue to come every weekend. They are nervous for their children and feel they do not have many options. They are proud of their children because they are very successful, but because of this success these young men and women do not have much time for a social life or to even worry about marriage.
At the end of the day, I left with many questions unanswered, the contact information for both father and son, and a hope that neither would ever try to contact me. In today’s day and age, the whole thing seems rather archaic, and not just to Westerners. Some Chinese people I’ve spoken to in their early-to-late twenties don’t only find the whole thing to be embarrassing, but also something out of China’s past. But some remnants from the past are never really obsolete.
The Matchmaking Corner is exactly like online dating in a non-virtual setting, except that the parents are conducting the search. The right to choose your own spouse has long been established in China, as well as the ability to search for that spouse. The fact that Chinese parents feel the need to try and set their children up may stem from their feeling that their children are not actively looking. Marriage just might not be the first priority of today’s generation of twenty and thirty somethings.