Strings of letter sized pieces of paper waving in the breeze between two trees served as a bulletin board advertising twenty-something Chinese men and women who are available for marriage.
It’s a low-tech. But it works.
For most young Chinese, serious dating with an eye on marriage doesn’t begin until after high school. Academic demands prior to that leave little room for exploring romance. But even when young Chinese adults turn their attention to marriage, spouse choices can be driven less by love and more by pragmatism (does this person fit my ideals, does he/she have a stable career, will he provide adequately for the family, etc.).
A contestant on China’s most popular dating show said, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle.”
Chinese parents also expect to be involved in their child’s choice of a spouse. Marriage matchmaking has always been an important cultural practice in China. It’s not uncommon for parents and grandparents to set their children up on blind dates with suitable matches they’ve found. And if their child’s significant other doesn’t meet with the parents’ approval, continuing the relationship may be very difficult.
Chinese young adults are often under a lot of pressure from the elders in their family to find a good husband or wife and get married relatively early. This pressure is particularly acute for women, who can be called “left-over women” if they pass the age of 26 or 27 without finding a husband. Men can also find themselves similarly left-over if they wait too long to get married.
This is a big part of why dating is often taken so seriously; Chinese young people often feel like they don’t have the time to “play the field” that their Western counterparts are afforded by society.
“The old family and social networks that people used to rely on for finding a husband or wife have fallen apart,” said James Farrer, an American sociologist who studies Chinese culture. “There’s a huge sense of dislocation in China, and young people don’t know where to turn.”