This July I got to visit the bustling and ever-changing city of Shanghai for the fourth time. And there are few topics as important in Shanghai as dating. Just like the city itself, its dating scene blends traditional and modern aspects. One of the most unique institutions of Shanghai is surely the marriage market in People’s Park (It’s so unique I went there despite the July heat!).
In this blogpost, we are going to lead you through this and other features of dating in China, including the “Leftover Women”, the “Bare Branches”, the “Rented Girlfriends/Boyfriends” and the most popular dating apps in modern China!
But Wait – A Marriage Market?! What is That?
The “People’s Park blind date corner” in Shanghai (上海人民公园的相亲角 Shànghǎi Rénmín Gōngyuán de xiāngqīn jiǎo) is where parents and grandparents meet every Saturday and Sunday from noon until around 5 pm to chat, exchange information and find suitable partners for their unmarried children and grandchildren.
The parents, who often don’t have their children’s approval for the matchmaking, hang up advertisements on bulletin boards or pin profiles and descriptions to pastel colored umbrellas. They sit there in the middle of the park with their paper fans and share with everyone passing by
In return, these are criteria that they are focusing on when meeting the parents of a potential suitor. Sometimes, the Chinese zodiac sign is also important, but usually personality and hobbies are not discussed at length. Can you imagine if your parents would do this with your CV?
In today’s modern world, young Chinese people are looking for partners on their own and do not approve of their parents’ matchmaking anymore. So the marriage market is one of the last opportunities for the parents to hang on a little bit longer to their traditions and to try to set up their children with partners that they find suitable, mostly from an economic point of view.
剩女 shèngnǚ – The “Leftover Women”
One of the reasons parents attend the marriage market are the so-called “leftover women” (剩女shèngnǚ). This derogatory term is used to describe women who are in their late 20s or older, usually pursuing a successful career, and who are still unmarried. As modern Chinese young women are focusing a lot more on their careers, they are in no hurry to get married at a young age anymore. In addition, the criteria of what they are looking for in a man have changed. A high salary and a house are no longer at the top of their list, as the women themselves can afford a good lifestyle out of their own pocket. For them, the personality of their potential partner as well as their own happiness are becoming more significant.
However, as the family lineage is crucial in China, it’s very important for the parents to see their daughter get married and give them grandchildren, especially if she is the only child of the family. As such, seeing their daughter single worries Chinese parents very much and it becomes a hugely important task in their lives to find her a suitable partner and secure the family unit.
At the same time, respecting one’s parents is extremely important in China and not getting married is often regarded as a sign of disrespect by the older generations. Not getting married at a certain age is seen as a real problem and a lot of social pressure is put on the “leftover women.” This is especially true during holidays like Chinese New Year (read more about it here). In occasions like this, the whole family gets together and asks the unmarried young women how old they are, why they are not married yet, whether they have a boyfriend etc.
In Chinese society, an unmarried woman is still often regarded as “incomplete” and being in a bad marriage is sometimes considered better than being single. The young Chinese women however prioritize their own happiness and success, so in order to counteract these old beliefs, they have created the term 女強人 (nǚqiángrén, power woman, iron lady) to describe themselves and their independent lifestyles.
The key to successful dating in China? Language! Learn Mandarin Chinese with Zizzle App now!
光棍 guānggùn – The “Bare Branches”
While many young women are getting married later and later, there is an additional problem that Chinese society is facing: the gender imbalance and the so-called “bare branches” (光棍 guānggùn), the single men. Because of the One Child Policy and the many sex-selective abortions that took place in the past, when sons were preferred to daughters, an extreme disproportion in the balance of genders developed in China. It is believed that by the year 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women in Chinese society. This lack of potential partners obviously puts young Chinese men in a very difficult position and has lead to the creation of the term “bare branch,” a branch without leaves and fruits, which is used to describe bachelors.
Faced with these alarming numbers, the authorities are starting to get concerned with the disproportionate ratio of men and women, which raises the question whether the derogatory term of 剩女 shèngnǚ might have been coined precisely in order to put more social pressure on young women to marry.
Renting a Boyfriend or Girlfriend (租女友, 租男友 zū nǚyǒu, zū nányǒu)
Because of the different views on marriage of various generations on the one hand and the difficulty for young people to find suitable partners on the other hand, the practice of renting fake boyfriends (假男友 jiǎ nányǒu) and girlfriends (假女友 jiǎ nǚyǒu) online emerged in China. To be able to show their families that they are in relationships when they go home for the holidays, some Chinese search online, on sites such as Taobao, to find someone that they can rent to stop making their parents feel anxious. This phenomenon however, is not only pricey but also assumes a good preparation so that the stories of both parties are matching and the parents don’t suspect the plot.
Besides the family visits, the fake boyfriends and girlfriends also provide extra-charge services such as emotional support, holding hands, going to the cinema together, spending time with the family and even making regular phone calls to the parents. However, it is always established from the beginning that the rental does not include any kissing or sexual services.
光棍节 Guānggùnjié – Singles’ Day
The Chinese Singles’ Day (光棍节 Guānggùnjié) was established among young Chinese people to show that they are proud of being single. It is celebrated on November 11, as the date consists of the repeated figure 1 (11.11), representing several single people. Originally, it was young men who were celebrating it, hence the name “Bachelor’s Day”, but girls joined very fast. While some people use this holiday to celebrate the fact that they are single, others put even more effort into finding a partner by going on blind dates, singles’ parties and other sorts of events.
Since 2009 however, Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, transformed Singles’ Day into a sort of Chinese Black Friday. Every year since, Alibaba has been creating more and more buzz around Singles’ Day, with celebrity endorsements, tons of advertisements, online events and the involvement of numerous famous brands. As such, Singles’ Day has become a commercial holiday during which Chinese people, regardless of whether they are single or not, tend to buy gifts for themselves.
Modern Day Dating in China
Despite the parents’ traditional views, just like in Western countries, where many young people use Tinder to find potential partners, China has its own modern equivalents. And they are usually the reverse of the profiles at the marriage market: salary and home ownership are not as important as pictures, one’s personality and hobbies. This reflects the young people’s desire for romantic relationships in which feelings and personal happiness play a major role. Give these popular apps a try!
Tantan (探探 Tàntàn) - The Tinder of China
Tantan, with the literal meaning “to explore,” works the same way like Tinder: after filling out their description and interests, users can swipe to the right or to the left depending on whether they like or dislike the profile which appears on their screen. If their profile and the one they liked match, they can start a conversation. Besides the local users, many overseas Chinese and foreigners can be found on Tantan as well, which explains why it’s also available in English.
Momo (陌陌 Mòmò)
Momo started out as a dating app and changed its focus to a social networking application which is based on interests and which supports social projects. However, as it was the first dating app in China, users still download it for the purpose of meeting potential partners. It has many add-on features such as playing games and joining different groups.
Let’s have dinner (请吃饭 Qǐng chīfàn)
Literally meaning “to invite someone to have a meal,” this app helps you find dining partners. If you are a guy for instance, you can offer a dinner in a particular restaurant and a number of girls will sign up for it. You then select one girl for a date and you meet up. To avoid weird situations, the app also offers the possibility to decide beforehand who pays for the dinner or whether you split the bill. Of course, girls can offer the dinner as well. To make sure that both parties actually show up for the date, the app even offers an optional down payment system. It’s up to you to choose the amount.
As you can see in this article, China is a country of contrasts, where old and new views collide and create a unique dating scene. Next time you walk through a Chinese park, just try your luck at finding a Chinese partner. Now you know what to pay attention to. Or maybe you are the more modern type and you prefer dating apps. Either way, your chance of succeeding on the Chinese dating market are hugely improved if you can actually communicate in Mandarin Chinese with your Chinese girlfriend / boyfriend. So make sure you learn some Chinese with Zizzle App before you go hunting!
Alexandra from Zizzle
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