Marriage Corner at People’s Park

Rachel Palfini

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As many of you probably know, Chinese culture, like so many others, places great emphasis on marriage. China has been a patriarchal society since its origin over 5000 years ago, and as such, much value is placed on producing sons. With recent medical advances in the past few decades, the sex ratio in China has become skewed so that in 2020 there will be 30 million more men than women (Brooks). As such, there is increasing anxiety among Chinese parents to find a spouse for their son or daughter.

My Issues in Chinese Society class spent a week examining gender roles in China, especially with relation to marriage. We took a field trip to People’s Park, which is located in the center of Shanghai, to observe the interactions among the local Shanghainese at the Marriage Corner. The Marriage Corner, as it is now colloquially referred to, is located in a pretty big section of the park. Every weekend, parents come and try to set up dates for their children. There are flyers upon flyers upon flyers, which are essentially advertisements about young Chinese men and women. These flyers primarily include quantitative information such as age (usually mid-20s to 30s), height, weight, salary, education level, etc. What I found particularly interesting though, is that it is the parents who are looking to set up dates for their children, not the children themselves. There were a few parents who were just socializing amongst themselves, but for the most part, the single mothers I observed did not converse with each other and the husband and wife pairs mostly talked amongst themselves while reading the various flyers.

Marriage Corner at People's Park in Shanghai

Marriage Corner at People’s Park in Shanghai

The red flyers are for women and the blue flyers are for men. My professor told us that flyers for women out number men 10 to 1 in the park.

The red flyers are for women and the blue flyers are for men. My professor told us that flyers for women out number men 10 to 1 in the park.

For my class assignment, I also had to interview a young Chinese student to get his or her opinion about the Marriage Corner. The first question I asked my interviewee was “Why do you think parents go to the Marriage Corner?” Her response, without a moment’s hesitation, was “they are eager to have grandchildren.” This initially struck me because everything about the Marriage Corner is focused on the single men and women. The flyers on display all contain information about the young adults’ physical characteristics and not whether or not they wanted to have children. Coming from the US where it is becoming more acceptable to not have children, this did initially surprise me. However, my interviewee made it clear later in our conversation that the entire point of marriage in China is to have a child. I asked my interviewee what her parents would say if she got married but never had a child: “They would be very upset. Even though my parents are pretty different from most Chinese parents because they let me choose which university I wanted to attend and which subject I wanted to study, they would still be very upset if I never had a child.”

It just kept going and going!

It just kept going and going!

My interview also revealed an interesting perspective on marriage since she is a young woman who might one day be considered a 剩女 (shen nu). Although this term is not as widely used at present as it has been in the past, it still refers to a highly educated, ambitious, independent, older (late 20s or 30s) woman who is single. My interviewee is in her first year at ECNU and very ambitious. She wants to continue her “education, see the world, receive [her] diploma and do lots of different things.” Never once did she mention the desire to have a boyfriend and she even stated she did not think she could accomplish her goals if she was involved with a man. This comment is interesting because it displays the new found independence a lot of Chinese women are adopting and the desire to postpone marriage as long as possible. I also asked if her parents were concerned about her ever getting married, since she is clearly quite ambitious. She said they were not concerned because they respect her choices and the different options she has available to her. If she is a very successful international businesswoman, they will not pressure her to get married. However, she did also say, “If I fail and cannot achieve my goals, then I will compromise to my parents, my relatives and society [by getting married], but for now I am ambitious.” It is interesting to note that marriage is my interviewee’s fall back option and one she primarily intends to pursue if she cannot accomplish her dreams. She also seemed somewhat deflated when discussing her marriage because it would mean she did not or could not accomplish all that she set out to do. I also asked if other female students at ECNU are as ambitious as she is and she said they do not outwardly appear to be so but that does not mean they are not inwardly ambitious.

Another section of the Marriage Corner. Also, spring has definitely arrived!

Another section of the Marriage Corner. Also, spring has definitely arrived!

My class finished up our discussion by comparing American marriage practices to that of China. While this was mildly frustrating since marriage practices vary a lot in the US and China depending on what part of the country you are talking about, it did have some value. The key difference I see with regards to marriage practices falls down to the United States being an individualistic society and China being oriented around the family. Of course it seems like an invasion of privacy to young Americans if their parents started a Marriage Corner in New York’s Central Park, but that would largely be because American young adults are given a great deal of independence. Instead of seeing the actions of the parents at the Marriage Corner as an invasion of privacy, I saw their actions to be more of a testament to their devotion to their children and was inspired by it. These parents clearly care deeply about their children and are quite concerned about their future if they are willing to spend many weekends perusing hundred of flyers, looking for potential candidates for their child. Especially since the success rate of the Marriage Corner is quite small, these parents are clearly very devoted if they are willing to invest so much energy into a system with few successes.

-Little Sparrow

**CNN article about China’s sex ratio: http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/opinion/china-challenges-one-child-brooks/

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