“No she doesn’t know I’m here. And she wouldn’t be happy to know I’m here,” laughed a mother at Shanghai’s Marriage Corner. She, along with hundreds of other hopeful parents, had come to the center of Shanghai to find potential marital matches for their children. Every weekend since 2004, the parents of Shanghai have gathered in People’s Park’s Marriage Corner to find husbands and wives for their children. The square is filled with hundreds of papers, each promoting a single individual. Some of the papers are put up by agencies, others are taped onto the top of umbrellas or boxes to be viewed by those who passed by, and still, some parents stand in the center of the square holding a short description or their child in their hand, just waiting for an interested candidate to come up.
I noticed that the majority of the advertisements were for 30-something year old women who had high-paying careers. This seemed peculiar to me, especially since China’s One Child Policy has led to a larger population of males than females. The next week in my Issues in Chinese Society course, we talked about the Sheng Nu, or “Leftover Women.” China’s Women’s Federation defines Sheng Nu as an unmarried Chinese woman over 27 years of age, and the Federation has often printed derogatory and undesirable descriptions about this group of women.
After visiting the Marriage Corner, I asked my Chinese roommate, Louise, her opinion of the Marriage Corner and the Sheng Nu. She said that only undesirable women are left unmarried at an old age. And also said that it is thought that children born to younger women will grow up to be smarter, so there is a heavy push for young girls to get married and have children after finishing school. I asked Louise about career women becoming Sheng Nus, and she replied, “Men want to be superior to women. If a woman has a good career and makes lots of money, the man will be afraid she will not listen to him and try to control him.” She also added, “If a man pursues a woman who is above him at the workplace, he will be laughed at and ridiculed by his friends.”
This seemed like such a strange gender dynamic to me, coming from a culture that values egalitarianism and mutual affection in a relationship. I would think career driven women would find compatible career driven partners. But, instead, it seemed Shanghai’s young bachelors and bachlorettes were still following more traditional roles.
I also noticed that many of the slips of paper advertised the individual’s age, height, monthly salary and other quantifiable figures. This idea of being matched on statistical compatibility was very different than what I have been used to and a priority system that I have never really thought about.
And while visiting the Marriage Corner was so shocking and different from anything I’ve experienced before, who is to say that match.com or eharmony doesn’t employ methods of relationship matches that may not be as shocking to a person of a different culture? If anything, I’ve come to realize and appreciate the differences between the eastern and western gender roles, and hope to one day learn more about their stark contrast.