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April 21, 2014

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Parents give dating game a helping hand

MARRIAGES, according to the popular idiom, are made in heaven. But in Shanghai, many parents worried about the single status of their children aren’t waiting for divine intervention.

Armed with photographs and copies of the education certificate of his 26-year-old son, Su Rongguo recently showed up at the “blind date corner” in the city’s Xujiahui area.

“I have talked with several parents, but most of their daughters are older than my son,” said Su, looking slightly disappointed.

His son, studying for a postgraduate degree in Australia, has no inkling what his father is up to. “He probably wouldn’t be too happy if he knew,” Su admitted.

But that doesn’t stop a determined parent. Su has already bought a Shanghai apartment for his son, something generally viewed as a prerequisite of marriage for men in China.

The anxious father said he’s looking for a potential daughter-in-law who is tender, industrious ... and not ugly.

Matchmaking by parents is an old tradition in China, though most modern, young urban singles reject the idea of intermediaries in their love lives.

Candy Cai, a 31-year-old who works for a private advertising company in Shanghai, said she wants to pick her own partner.

“My parents are anxious and put a lot of pressure on me,” she said. “I tell them they don’t need to go to matchmaking events on my behalf. I will only marry someone I like, rather than a man introduced by them.”

“Blind date corner” in Xujiahui appeared in late March, set up by the Shanghai Matchmaking Association for anxious parents and to provide an alternative to the unlicensed matchmaking event in People’s Park.

At first, organizers intended to make their event quarterly, but demand from parents has seen them hold it every month.

The event is limited to 200 participants per time, but more than 2,000 parents have applied. Of those, 1,600 are parents of women, said Zhou Juemin, director of the association.

Admission is 50 yuan (US$8.25), and parents must provide photographs of their children, ID cards, hukou (permanent residence permits), academic qualifications, plus proof that their offspring are indeed single.

With more than 1,500 parents still waiting their turn, the association decided to set up a “parent corner” for 1,000 parents next month in the city’s biggest matchmaking event.

‘Leftover’ people

Matchmaking events are not new to the city. Most typically, they are held for singles in their 20s and 30s.

Women in their late-20s and men in their mid-30s are sometimes referred to as “leftover” people in China. Even well-educated, well-paid individuals sometimes find it hard to meet the partners of their dreams.

“This is a real social problem,” Zhou said. “This wave of singles — the fourth in China, which started in 2006 — is forecast to last 10 to 15 years.”

A retired university professor surnamed Zhang, was among those at a recent “blind date corner” event. His 40-year-old daughter who works as an accountant is unmarried. She’s shy, he explained.

“My wife and I are now in our 70s, and will be gone one day,” Zhang said. “She is growing older and has no child. Who will take care of her after we die?”

Zhang said he has lowered his criteria for a son-in-law. A lower education background and a newcomer to the city would be acceptable, he said.

“I once paid about 1,800 yuan to a matchmaking agency, only to be told in the end that the situation was too difficult,” he said.

Zhang said he visited the matchmaking event in People’s Park several times, only to find that parents of men the same age as his daughter were looking for much younger women.

Gathering in People’s Park, which have been taking place for 10 years, often attract up to 2,000 parents. Details on the age, education and employment of prospective partners is written like an advertisement for other parents to consider.

Many parents who attend these events do so without their children’s knowledge.

The Shanghai Youth League Committee, which hosted a mass matchmaking event in Gucun Park late last month, said it will organize classes for parents to help them take a more rational view of unmarried children.

Anxiety trumps

But it seems that anxiety trumps rationality among many parents.

“My son, born in 1986, graduated from Fudan University and works at a foreign-funded company,” one father at the Xujiahui event said. “We are looking for a future spouse who was born after 1987 and has family assets of over 5 million yuan.”

Leng Li, a psychologist and marriage counselor, said she has seen too many parents pour too much energy into trying to find a mate for their children.

“It is understandable that parents worry about their children’s marriages,” she said. “But Chinese parents should do more in providing guidance for their children on how to socialize, how to look attractive and how to behave in a confident and charming manner. But that ability is usually lacking in Chinese parents.”

China’s one-child policy hasn’t helped the situation. Too many children born after 1980 were spoiled rotten and became vain and ill-mannered. Parents, with only one child to focus on, become obsessed about that child’s future.

“Youngsters have their own ideas, and parents need to learn to accept them rather than interfere,” Leng said. “In many cases, prospective spouses found by parents are not suitable for their children at all.”

Leng said the guidance she gives parents often falls on deaf ears.

It’s not impossible for single women in their late 20s and early 30s, who have good educations and jobs, to find partners, even if they don’t look like Gong Li. Many of them simply have high standards that they aren’t willing to compromise, Leng said. It’s a bit easier for older men, she added, because many women prefer mature men.

China’s rising divorce rate certainly suggests that not all marriages are made in heaven. Young couples seeking divorces accounted for almost a third of family and marital disputes heard by the Huangpu District People’s Court in the past three years, the court said.

And no prize for guessing what causes many of the divorces — meddling parents!


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