What's it like inside Shanghai's 'Marriage Market'?

What's it like inside Shanghai's 'Marriage Market'?

It's busier than a wet market, but the success rate is worse than a job fair's

Shanghai marriage market -- 5Take hope, all ye who enter here. A wall of personal advertisements marks the entrance to the "Marriage Market".
“I’ve been coming here every weekend for two years, but here is a low rate of success,” says a desperate mother, shaking her head. “Some people come for four or five years but never find someone.”

“My daughter went to England for study for seven years,” she continues. “When she came back, it was already too late for her to find a boyfriend … she thinks that her time in England was worth it, but to me nothing is more important than starting a family.”

The People’s Square "Marriage Market," or the "matchmaking corner" as the locals call it, is a Shanghai institution.

Every Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of parents gather up, regardless of the weather, clutching single sheets of paper that present their children in a few simple phrases -- age, height, education, job, salary, whether they studied abroad and whether they own their own apartment.

Shanghai marriage market -- 2"Female, born 1981, 1.62 meters tall, bachelor's degree, project director at a foreign company, monthly salary above RMB 10,000, looking for someone born between 1974 and 1982, bachelor's degree or above with a sense of responsibility for the family." While parents crowd around eager to talk to a foreign journalist, in the hopes that their children might have the opportunity to find a foreign partner, none of the parents are willing to give their real names or show their children’s faces in the media, and most refuse to be photographed themselves.

“My daughter doesn’t approve of me coming here -- I stole a photo of her to bring to the market,” says one disconsolate father.

He has sent his 29-year-old daughter on 12 dates with men he found at the marriage market. “But it never works out,” he says, shaking his head.

More on CNNGo: The stigma of being single in Shanghai

Shanghai marriage market -- 3“My son is too picky,” said this Shanghai native. “A lot of girls are interested in him, but he spent a lot of money studying in Stockholm for seven years and he doesn’t have his own house yet.”

Despite the low rate of success at the market, parents cling to the hope that they will find a suitable match for their offspring.

“If I find one suitable girl out of 100, I will have been successful,” says the Shanghainese father in the picture.

Shanghai marriage market -- 4The weekly People's Square "Marriage Market" is more crowded than most Shanghai's wet markets.
However, a mother from northern China sees the problem in a different way.

“Modern parents have very high demands for their children,” she says. “What the parents didn’t achieve, they want for their children.”

Her 28-year-old daughter, who is a project manager at a foreign company, thinks the fact that her mother comes to the market is “embarrassing.” But there is a traditional idea that people must marry, her mother says.

“If I die with my daughter unmarried, I cannot close my eyes.”

Shanghai marriage market -- Zhang Wenjiang (张文江)The 73-year-old widower Zhang Wenjiang (张文江), who comes here regularly to find himself a wife, stands out from the crowd.
While the average marriage market profile is a 20- or 30-something professional, with females vastly outnumbering males, there are always some who stand out from the crowd.

“I made a special advert specifically because I don’t want to get lost in the crowd,” says Zhang Wenjiang (张文江), pictured here next to his sign holding his university graduation picture.

The 73-year-old Shanghainese widower, who comes to the market almost every Saturday and Sunday, says he used to use agencies to try to find a new partner, but the agencies' main goal is only to earn commission from him.

More on CNNGo: Shanghai's 'fake marriage' market: Gay men and women try to fit in

“It was hard to get the courage to come here,” he says.

“I used to have a wife. She was very beautiful but she passed away. I don’t lack anything in life. I only lack someone to talk to in the evening.”

Shanghai marriage market -- 1They talk for about 10 minutes and then swap contact details.

As we are talking, Zhang sees two women looking at his sign; he waves and beckons them over.

The woman in question is 68, also from Shanghai. It is her first time visiting the market. They talk for about 10 minutes and then swap contact details.

Will the match work?

“First we will talk as friends and see if we fit it each other,” says Zhang. “And then we will see.”

If you want to go:

The "Marriage Market" takes place every Saturday and Sunday afternoon from noon till about 5 p.m. at the north end of People’s Park (人民公园, 75 Nanjing Lu, near Huangpi Bei Lu 南京西路75号, 近黄陂北路) The closes metro station is Metro Line 1, 2 and 8 People’s Square Station.

After working as a full-time photographer and multimedia producer for small-town American newspapers for several years, Gillian followed her camera across the globe in pursuit of new experiences and adventures.

Read more about Gillian Bolsover