Ever since 2004 every weekend a large group of parents and sometimes even grandparents gather in the famous People’s Park, in People’s Square in the center of Shanghai. These parents advertise their single children for marriage with posters showing personal information on the ground or umbrellas. This Shanghai Marriage Market in People’s Park, is a nice example where traditional values meet with modern world.
Who participates, and why?
Traditionally parents played an important role in finding a good partner for their child and the Marriage Market is a nice example where this old value is still visible. They market is full of elder people, mostly parents, sometimes even grandparents, aunts or other relatives, who are concerned about the unmarried status of their offspring. They exchange information in the hope to find a suitable match for their child.
You will not see the children themselves. They often find it embarrassing to be advertised at marriage markets. As such, parents usually attend without their children’s permission.
How does it work?
Like you nowadays see on the online dating sites, the parents write an advertisements for their child. It mostly contains straightforward information and read something like a “marriage resume”:
- Age, height, and might even weight. It’s all laid out there, and while appearance is important, it’s not the deciding factor. However, many parents tend to have specific height requirements for their ideal son/daughter in law (to ensure tall grandchildren.
- Position, degree, current job, and in typical Chinese fashion, their income. This is a very important aspect. What can your child offer a potential spouse? Does he/she have a good income and very important can he offer good housing. For traditional Chinese people housing is very important. You first get a house then get a partner for life. Does he/she have a car? How much does he make a month?
- Origin, and your date of birth. The first question the parents will ask if the person is Shanghainese or not. If one has a local hùkou (housing registration) it will make it much easier to get access to education and healthcare.
In Shanghai Marriage Market in People’s Park, parents focus more on whether the unmarried boys and girls match each other in aspects of materials; whether the family backgrounds are equal to each other. Most of the parents ignore the children’s value of love and life.
A special area is set for parents whose children have overseas study experience, so they have a greater chance to find an equal match for their children.
Does it help?
The reality is that it rarely does. Few real matches are made, in no small part due to many children not wanting to marry someone because their parents found a one-page ad taped to an umbrella. But of course, finding an actual marriage is perhaps not the real point for the market. It has a strong social component, with many parents striking up conversations with complete strangers over their children. In some sense, it’s just a place for parents to do what parents all around the world love doing: talk about their kids.
If you’re ever in Shanghai on a Saturday, the wedding market is a perfect way to see a different side of Chinese culture. It can give you a unique insight into how marriage works, and how it used to work, in China.
Of course it is all in Chinese, but I am willing to show you around and help you with interpretation.