Shanghai's marriage market: Bridal bliss or marital mayhem?

Shanghai's marriage market: Bridal bliss or marital mayhem?

With a projected 24 million bachelors in China by 2020, Shanghai’s parents at the local marriage market have their work cut out

Personal advertisements litter the bushes and trees in People's Square park as parents and grandparents try and find matches for their offspring. (Video by Jade Bremner)

“My daughter studied in an Australian program for university,” says Chen Liande, holding out a photo for the small crowd to view. Someone compliments him. “She’s been to London, too. Now I’m helping her find a husband,” he adds.

Personal advertisements litter the bushes and trees in People's Square park as parents and grandparents try and find matches for their offspring. (Video by Jade Bremner)

 

“My daughter studied in an Australian program for university,” says Chen Liande, holding out a photo for the small crowd to view. Someone compliments him. “She’s been to London, too. Now I’m helping her find a husband,” he adds.

With a large park, walking paths, greenery and two museums, People’s Square is the beating heart of a modern city. And on weekend afternoons that heart flutters and palpitates as doting parents hope to marry off their kids. Next to the modern art museum in People's Square Park, crowds of them jostle and chatter, the bushes around filled with papers advertising height and weight, salary and education. “28. Good job. Local resident. Have house have car. Contact for a meeting,” says one. 

Shanghai marriage marketMatchmaker Mr Fu site with his clients' profiles at the weekend People's Square marriage market.This nuptial gathering is the famous Shanghai marriage market. It is match.com meets farmers’ market, and it is the last resort for many of Shanghai's young people, and their parents.

The parent trap

At the marriage market, parents, with or without their children’s consent, arrange meetings, dates and potential matches for their kids. Some children, often too busy working to devote time to meeting a soul mate, accept their parents' help. But its not easy even for a parent, and many also employ matchmakers.

Matchmakers broker meetings for numerous clients usually charging RMB 10-20 per pairing. “I’ve been a matchmaker for three years,” says Mr Zheng “There’s no large payment up front. If you get married, I expect a nice gift and maybe an invitation to attend the wedding. I already represent two American men. Interested?”

Even then, matching people long term, especially with the (in)famously strong-willed Shanghainese women, can be difficult.

“I’ve been here a long time,” muses Mr Fu, a local matchmaker. “Girls in Shanghai are strong these days. Although they don’t have as much trouble finding a man, there are still lots of unmarried girls’ names on my lists.”

But that could soon flip the other way, if a recent report is to be believed.

24 million unmarried men

28. Good job. Local resident. Have house have car. Contact for a meeting. — Sign at the People's Square marriage market

According to a study from the University of Kent, in ten years China will have approximately 24 million unmarried Chinese men who cannot find wives. That's more than the current female populations of Taiwan and South Korea combined, to give it some context. 

“Sustained abnormal sex ratio at birth in China for nearly three decades, following China's launch of its one-child policy, clearly has a major impact on the Chinese marriage market,” explains Professor Wang Feng, Chair of the sociology department at University of California, Irvine and an expert in Chinese population demographics. 

But while that sounds like China's men will be running over themselves to find a wife come 2020, the news is not so bad for those in Shanghai. “Involuntary bachelorhood so far is largely confined to the poor," explains Professor Wang. "For men, especially those in Shanghai, finding a wife is still possible and marriage is still one of the primary markers of success in life.”

Hence the continued existence of the seemingly anachronistic Shanghai marriage market.

Feeling Lonely?

The Shanghai marriage market takes place on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from about noon to three. It is found just inside gate 5 of People’s Square Park, 75 Nanjing Xi Lu., across from the Grand Theater. Take Metro line 1, 2 or 8 to People’s Square station, take Exit 9 to the ground level and turn left.

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