What's the first thing which pops in your mind when you think about love? For some, love means happiness, security, affection, freedom, pleasure, some want to build a house with their partner or travel the world, others dream about a happy marriage or children. Everyone has it different, but I think the goal is to find someone who loves and makes you happy. What if I tell you these things don't matter that much in China? And love isn't one of criteria when it comes to choosing your partner? The whole world follows the same boring pattern: go to school, get married, have children (don't question it, just do it). We grow up in a world where girls are taught to dream about marriage, they tell us that's the ultimate goal. Your relationship sucks? Get married, it will solve all your problems. But seriously now, is a legal paper really the solution?
Chinese Wedding Markets (白发相亲)
When I think about a wedding market I imagine makeup artists, photographers, catering, info about venues, floral arrangements, wedding planners and everything related to this. Not in China though. Shanghai has one of the biggest wedding markets and I was more than surprised to find there just a bunch of people with umbrellas. Better say thousands of people, mostly parents and grandparents, sitting on a chair with an opened umbrella in front of them. Getting a closer look, on every umbrella there's an A4 paper looking like a CV written in Chinese. Ok, now you're confused. Let me explain.
A wedding in China is not necessarily based on love and romance. Is more like creating a bond between families to show support for the community and care for elderly parents, especially in countryside where the family plays the most important role in marriage choices. Considering this, not so many will marry the person they love, but the person with the highest social status. Yes, that's right, the richer you are the easier is to get a spouse.
''When I was a teenager I loved a nice, sweet boy and we wanted to run away together, get married and live happily ever after. He came from a poor family, so my parents forced me to marry someone else. In the beginning I hated my husband. I still think he's ugly and I don't want to have sex with him, but I realized he is the right one for me. He comes from a wealthy and respected family, he has a good social status and gives me all the financial support I need. I am happy! We have a 6 years old daughter and I'd rather die than see her with a poor, uneducated guy. Never!'', said Jane, a 36 years old Chinese woman, in one of our conversations.
Love is not even taken in consideration when it comes to choosing your partner. Love comes last. A wealthy respected family, a high social status, a huge income, a good education, a nice physical appearance and manners are the qualities women are looking for in a man. Of course, not every man has all these, so the minimum requirements they need to meet are : the man must be older than the woman, he must earn more than she does and he needs to own an apartment, preferably a car too. Jane's husband is one of these men. How happy do you think he is? Is his marriage successful? On the other hand, a short, ugly and poor man will never get a wife, he's considered unmarriageable. There's even a word for this, they call him 矮丑穷(ai chou qiong) which means exactly what I said, short, ugly, poor. Less fortunate men work hard to afford an apartment. This truck driver I met last year, seemed to be in his 50's but he was just 26. We didn't look the same age, he looked more like my dad. Sleep deprivation was one of the aging causes.
''No woman will marry me if I don't have an apartment'', explained to me while chewing on some weird root which presumably gave him energy. ''Sometimes I drive more than 72 hours without sleep. I want to sleep now, I haven't slept in days, but I like this job because I earn good money and in few years I can afford to marry someone. You know women, they expect a lot from us'', said the truck driver with a jolly voice.
That's insane! I understood then how picky women are there, so nobody will ever go for an aichouqiong. I think it got to this due to the shortage of men in China. The one-child policy created a massive sex-selected abortions (everyone wanted a boy, so the girls were aborted). Everywhere else, these women would be considered 'gold-diggers', but not in China. This is something common and the society accepts it, but you know what society doesn't accept? An unmarried woman.
In some cases women have difficulties in finding a husband too. Strong, intelligent women are expected to put their career on hold, get married and start a family. The older they get, the less chances they have to find someone. Women in their late 20's and older are called leftovers and people are looking down on them. Yes, there's a word for them too: 剩女(sheng nu). Some women choose to build something, choose to have a career, choose to live their lives at their fullest before commit to anyone. Don't get me wrong, but not every woman dreams about marring a prince and having babies. Still, the society doesn't care about it. The society is judgmental and discriminating. This is so overwhelming for some of these women that they end up 'renting' a boyfriend. There are even apps where you can pay someone to pretend is your boyfriend. Costs around 100€/day to hire a handsome guy to act in love and ready to marry you when is introduced to the family. That's right, you can pay to fake a relationship in order to keep the parents happy and quiet because ''If you're not married, you're doing something wrong''.
Both men and women have it difficult, but do you think parents have an easier life? Parents need to secure their future, so they rely on their children to marry someone rich. If their child stays single, not only it will bring shame upon the family, but there won't be anyone to take care of them later and this is so deep rooted in their mind that they'll do everything possible to avoid it. Let's take my friend Jane as an example. She was once in love and dreamed of marrying the boy she cared about. Who doesn't wish to spend the rest of their lives with someone who truly loves them? Unfortunately, her parents had different plans for her. In a society where family comes first, where you have to sacrifice everything to keep your parents happy, I'd say she didn't have much of a choice so she listened to her parents and married a random rich man. Years passed by and she started to cope with the pain, she started accepting her situation and her reality changed. She wasn't a 'victim' anymore, she was 'lucky' her parents helped her to find the right husband before she became a leftover and now she has all the financial support she needs. Later, she's going to do the same to her daughter. Do you understand now what's the real problem? This thing turns in a loop. Generation after generation are being taught this is the right way, the only way, so they continue to raise their children accordingly. But how can they know better when the international media is blocked in China? There's no access to information, no Google, no Facebook, no YouTube, nothing.
Back to Chinese Wedding markets now. Desperate, helpless parents and grandparents go every weekend in a park to advertise their offsprings, there's an entire park full of them and it gets pretty crowded after lunch. On a paper is written information about income, education, age, height, weight, zodiac sign, personality, family values and sometimes even a picture. Some parents even write what expectations they have from the match and ask for specific requirements. Who comes to the market to check the possibilities? Single people? Young men and women looking for their soulmate? NO! Other parents. They talk to each other and if they agree on everything, go ahead and set up a blind date. Most of the times the children don't even know their parents are doing this behind their back, they wouldn't be too happy about it either.
The funny thing is everyone there gets angry if you start taking pictures or videos, like they are somehow ashamed of being there. Like this old man, from the video, swearing at me.
Would you marry someone just to keep your family happy? Let me know in the comment section below.