Finding a spouse in a Chinese marriage market

Thousands of singles search for partners each Sunday at a park-based marriage market in bustling Shanghai.

| | Arts & Culture, Asia, China

Shanghai, China - "Single male: born in 1969 under the Chinese zodiac of the monkey, height 170cm, a non-smoking, non-drinking, only child seeks a wife 35 to 40 years of age, around 160cm tall, healthy, never married, with a stable job.”

So reads a hand-written advertisement held by the man's mother at Shanghai's marriage market at People's Square in Shanghai. Competition for a spouse is fierce, but this prospective groom comes with a sweetener: a two bedroom apartment, paid out in full.

Thousands of singles search for partners each Sunday at the site of Shanghai's former race course. While parents hold placards or browse the long rows of classifieds that line the paths of this leafy park, the singles themselves are curiously absent.

"Children find it embarrassing to be advertised here, it's a loss of face” says Jiang Jin, 38, an office worker who says she has come to the market out of curiosity. "It's the parents who arranged this market. They're the ones who come here.”

A five-month advertisement costs about $3.20. Unlimited phone numbers can be obtained from marriage brokers for a registration fee of $16.

High standards

Although marriage is serious business, the market is also a social outlet for concerned parents, the vast majority of whom raised their children under China's one-child policy. Long conversations are often struck up with complete strangers with the familiar question: "So, do you have a son or a daughter?”

Mrs Hu, who declined to give her second name, claims to be on her third visit to the market to find a wife for her 34-year-old son, a university graduate and bank employee. With women representing 80 percent of singles advertised at the market, Hu is at an advantage, but she has exacting standards.

Her ideal daughter-in-law is between 164-168cm, three years younger than her 182 cm son, with a similar education and income level.

Additionally, a prospective spouse must be a compatible sign of the Chinese zodiac for her son, who was born in the inauspicious year of the goat. "As soon as I hear a daughter's age, I instantly calculate their horoscope to see whether they are a horse, pig or rabbit,” Hu says.

Yet the mother shows no outward signs of doubt that she will find a match for her son, although she has neglected to bring a photo of him. "Everyone says he's handsome,” she insists. "He's outstanding.”

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