Why Marriage in China is a Failing Prospect

August 4, 2015
china, china culture
Marriage in China

In recent Chinese news, people have been questioning why marriage is no longer making people as happy as it used to. As the divorce rate is constantly rising, marriage in China seems to be a failing prospect. This year, the rate is 13% higher than it was last year, with 3.5 million couples having filed for divorce last year. I have never been married myself and like Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” However, sometimes love can be a tricky business in China.

The dating price – how many assets do you have?

The Chinese have a saying, “A courtship without marriage intention is an indecent act.” Many Chinese parents tell their daughter to refuse any dating proposal from a promising young man if the he does not express the will to marry her. Chinese people, like people all around the world, find their love interests through many types of medium: at school, parties, bars, work; through friends, friends’ friends, parents’ friends; and through the internet, apps, and TV.

No matter how people find their potential love interests, love is tricky business. In the popular Chinese dating show, If You Are The One, both the bachelors and bachelorettes are introduced to one another by way of their personal information–including age, occupation and  salary. A popular 2008 Chinese movie with the same name, If You Are The One also highlights the materialistic dating culture in China.

These popular shows represent what people need to know when first meeting someone – the guy’s money situation, and the women’s age and her willingness to sacrifice for the family. Of course, personalities and compatibilities are important too,  but none of that will be considered if they can not meet the predominant requirements.

So, how much is the socially required wealth standard for someone to be considered good dating material?

The groom’s bride price – how much you can pay for me?

In China, the groom has to pay a lump sum to the bride’s family before the family gives its blessing for the marriage. Depending on the geographical location of the bride’s family, the bride price is generally higher in wealthy urban areas than in rural areas. In Shanghai, the bride price can be as high as one million yuan.

This old Chinese tradition is still ingrained into modern Chinese society. And the modern social issues have only reinforced this tradition. The cost of living is constantly rising especially in the big cities, with staggering property prices. Also, having a house or an apartment of your own is expected as it is a sign of stability.

Sexism is another major issue when it comes to marriage in China. Women are a major part of the Chinese workforce today, and yet, they are still expected to get married by certain age. Career, family and kid–one after another and none of these steps can be missed.

Women who are over the expected marriage age and still single face extraordinary pressures from their family and society. For this reason, many young women try to get married as soon as possible before they are too “old.” Many of them might not yet know themselves and others well enough to make such a big decision. It also does not help that the Chinese education system supports very little individualism and independent thinking among students.

The lover’s paradox – a perfect life is someone else’s life.

In China, a common parenting practice is comparing one’s children to other people’s children. Unfortunately, this practice continues long after the children are grown up.

If couples only marry because of their financial prospects, there’s a good chance that they’ll be dissatisfied at some point. There is always someone else who has more, and couples who compare themselves to others will find themselves constantly chasing unachievable dreams.

It will take awhile for Chinese society to progress and for the individual to realize what happiness is for him or her personally. Luckily, some experts say that the reason the divorce rate is skyrocketing is the result of social progress and more Chinese women demanding equality rights, which is great news.

Photo credit: Max-Leonhard von Schaper

About Faye Zhang

Faye ZhangFaye was living and working in New Zealand for the past eight years and recently came to live in China. She hopes sharing stories about her time living in China with the Pink Pangea community will help women who are interested in traveling there!

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