“There are three forms of unfilial conduct, of which the worst is to have no descendants”, Mencius
These past few weeks, while the whole country has been busy celebrating Chinese New Year, there is one particular group of people, for whom the customary visit home to their parents is a mixed-bag of emotions. They know, they are in for a rough time of questioning. They are China’s singletons.
While this social phenomenon is not entirely unique to China, the pressure put on young locals to tie the knot is unimaginably high. One of the main reasons is that particularly for the older generation, rather than representing the epitome of romantic love, matrimony is often considered in much more practical terms; most importantly it is the vehicle that allows for their future grandchild to come into this world. In China’s modern society a boundless desire to ensure the continuation of one’s bloodline has come together with the recently obsolete one-child policy to create a perfect storm. Where before with 5 or more siblings per family, a grandchild was pretty much in the bag, now the responsibility to procreate, and procreate fast, rests squarely on that one single child. And so, the parents, the wider family, and even society as a whole, are getting involved in young Chinese love lives to ensure they find that special someone to secure the next generation as soon as possible.
Marriage Pressure and the Media
The pressure manifests itself in many ways and in recent years, unique institutions point to this clash of the generations that is unraveling before our very eyes, as young Chinese are increasingly delaying marriage but their parents are as eager as ever for their offspring to get hooked fresh out of uni. China’s marriage markets, where parents of single people go to try and match up their children (often without their knowledge) with those of strangers by exchanging CVs detailing information such as age, height, weight (for women), and degree, type of car, and property ownership (for men), are one of the most prevalent examples. They have received global media attention and even an exclusive offer in the shape of one Sir Ian McKellen. Then, only recently, TV matchmaking show “Chinese Blind Date” made waves by making contestants impress their future parents-in-law, rather than their potential partner, again showcasing how closely many parents in China can be involved in their offspring’s quest for Mr. or Ms. Right.
Young people on the other hand are finding their own ways of dealing with their parents’ involvement, for example by renting people to pose as partners and accompany them over the holidays in exchange for pay. Others are being more confrontational and have joined the so-called “Anti-Marriage Pressure Union,” a movement that caught the eye of the public by posting an ad in one of the busiest stations in the Beijing underground during the last Chinese New Year addressing parents worried about their child’s single status.
Viral Potential of Marriage Pressure
Photos of the ad went viral on the internet, as have many other related media productions, illustrating the fact how strongly marriage pressure permeates every inch of life in China. Who could forget the heart-string tugging SK-II marketing stunt held at the infamous marriage market in Shanghai’s People’s Park, or this year’s production of a Shanghainese Choir, which hilariously, yet succinctly describes the torment of the young unmarried during Spring Festival. What is abundantly clear is this: manage to package this hot topic in a touching or entertaining way and you have viral gold.
Dealing with Marriage Pressure as a Foreign Woman
Marriage pressure is and always will be a topic that gets my blood boiling. However, as a foreign woman who was dating a Chinese man from the age of 24, one might think that I too faced pushy relatives. Especially since pressure on women, who are considered “left over,” or past their prime at 25, is much higher. The truth is, I faced much less nagging than any Chinese girl for two reasons: 1. This was not my culture, 2. I had the luxury of being able to make up wildly inaccurate truths about my own culture’s marriage traditions. I was looking into Chinese society from the outside, shaking my head at this rush to tie the knot, but never received pressure from my own parents and only got the odd probing from my family-in-law. That was because right in the beginning of our relationship I loudly and frequently announced that “in Germany no one marries before 30.” And then I would thank the heavens that at least in my mother’s case that was actually true.