Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

I’ve just returned from spending the Chinese New Year with my girlfriend’s family in Shandong (apologies for the lack of recent updates). A few weeks ago I wrote on China’s marriage trap and over the holiday I got to experience first hand a little bit of why Chinese often rush into marriage.

This was my third Chinese New Year at her home. As is Chinese custom and social assumption, the first time I went was essentially signaling our intent to get married. The idea that I was a just a foreigner with no place else to go for the holiday wasn’t something that crossed many people’s minds. The second year, things were set in stone when one uncle went so far as to host a semi-official “welcome to the family” dinner (unbeknownst to me ahead of time). Keep in mind, we never said a word to anyone about marriage plans. This year, everyone’s attitude was basically, “What the hell are you waiting for?”

My girlfriend’s family is about the most liberal you could ever ask for. Nobody ever gave her one bit of grief about dating a foreigner and we even sleep in the same bed while staying at her parents’ place (completely shocking to most Chinese friends I tell). But that didn’t make us immune to the marriage pressure. There was no playful insinuation or beating around the bush. Every relative’s and friend’s home we visited, we were asked directly, “When are you getting married?”

I would just cop-out with the always useful “我听不懂” (I don’t understand) card and make my girlfriend answer. She’d just say we didn’t have plans yet – that I’m still finishing school and there’s no reason to rush, which is true. That was good enough for most, but not all. We went to visit a friend of the family who’s my girlfriend’s “godmother” and made a critical error.

Godmother: When will you two get married?

Girlfriend: We’re not sure.

Godmother: Then when will you have a baby?

Girlfriend: Haha, I’m not even sure I want a baby.

Godmother: (Jaw drops) But you must have a baby.

Girlfriend: Haha, I don’t know.

Godmother: You don’t have to have it right away. You can just be married for a year and then have it.

Girlfriend: We’ll see.

Godmother: You don’t even have to plan it. Just stop using birth control and see what happens.

…And that’s about the point I decided I wouldn’t be returning to her hometown until I put a ring on her finger.

There seems to be a common fear in China that if you wait one day past your 30th birthday to have a baby, it’ll have disastrous health effects for the mother or child. So now that we’re certain we won’t be breaking up, it’s just baffling to some that we aren’t actively planning the wedding and fixing to get knocked up on the wedding night.

For us it’s not a big deal. We’re strong-willed and most of the family is open-minded enough that we don’t feel tempted to bow to this pressure. We’re all but certain we’ll get married eventually anyways, so it’s easy to brush off. But it’s easy to see how many Chinese just throw in the towel and jump into a life they’re not ready for.

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The marriage trap

Posted: January 16, 2012 in Chinese Culture
Tags: ,

Recently many of my girlfriend’s single acquaintances have been scrambling to find spouses. They’re all around 25 and have entered the 2-3 year window before they’re at serious risk of being “leftover.”

In her increasingly frequent role of matchmaker, a few months ago my girlfriend was given these requirements by a friend for a potential husband:

  • Has Beijing hukou (residency card)
  • Rich family with capability to buy a house
  • Has “ambition” (doesn’t need to have a high-paying job now, but must be on the track to one)
  • 1.8 meters tall (5’11”)

But now the girl’s mother has given her the “final notice” to find a man. Hitting 25 was like watching from the terminal as your plane’s propellers start to spin. So her standards have become much more modest. This is all after long ago breaking up with a boy that she actually liked because he didn’t quite live up to all the previous requirements.

On the other side, a guy friend broke up with his girlfriend whom he really loved last year.  She was from the south and his family wanted him to marry a hometown girl so he wouldn’t ever be tempted to move. Now he’s set to marry a local that his family introduced him to just a few months ago. He’s already bitter about it, always changing the subject whenever the topic of his fiancée is brought up.

Once my girlfriend set up two friends with each other who actually hit it off. The guy was rich, the girl was pretty and they seemed to get along really well. So I was surprised when the girl ended it. She was from the countryside and felt inferior to the guy. She thought marrying him would permanently cause her family to lose face to his.

All these cases have been thoroughly depressing to watch; especially after seeing a window into their future. When I worked at an English mill, several students were affluent middle-aged housewives studying English as a kind of status symbol and way to meet people.

One day, one of these women was laying on innuendo pretty heavily with one of the older foreign teachers. When he failed to respond she began crying and flat out asked him to sleep with her. The teacher tried to console her as she went on about how her husband hadn’t touched her in months. He’d just come home late and slip into bed, then leave the next morning without saying a word.

This is what frequently happens with these kinds of rushed marriages where meeting and engagement are just weeks (sometimes days) apart. Another of my girlfriend’s friends has never so much as kissed a boy, but now she’s going through suitors like job applicants – desperate to fill the open position. With the perception of a ticking clock that stops at age 30, there’s only room for social and economic considerations.

Housing prices are ridiculous and inflation is pretty terrible in general, so the concern for economic security is somewhat understandable. So is considering implications of the marriage on the family, given China’s Confucian filial piety tradition. But when you see someone who’s rich financially and in filial duty burst into tears begging a near stranger for sex, that’s a pretty good indicator of misplaced priorities. And she didn’t even get the worst of it.

A friend’s aunt quickly married a man who, on paper, seemed pretty suitable.  Then she quickly found out he was a sociopath who kept tabs on her 24/7 – beating her severely for talking to any other man. The stories go on and on…

Some of these kids today will luck out and end up with someone they really like, or can at least tolerate. But unfortunately, a lot won’t. It’s a problem one would hope can improve with economic development and women’s empowerment, but I’m not so sure. In a country with such a skewed gender imbalance and emphasis on face, I think we’ll be seeing plenty of miserable marriages for a long time to come.