Female. Born in 1983. Shanghai residence permit. 1.62m tall.
So begin the qualifications of a potentially marriageable young Shanghai woman. Not that she wrote her own description of course, she might not even be aware her vital statistics are being displayed every weekend in a corner of People’s Square by a marriage broker – her own mother.
According to the sign, pegged to a shopping bag, she works in administration for a foreign enterprise with a monthly pay of 6,000 yuan (about $US1000).
She is also shanliang – good and kind-hearted, laoshi – honest, and xiangmao jiao hao – of quite good facial appearance.
Parents already retired, living in Shanghai.
Yuqiu – wishing for – a man with a specialized field of study (bachelor degree or higher), born between 1978 and 1985, honest, dependable, and with a salary of more than 6,000 yuan per month.
The last line, 有事业心的有房男士，as translated by two Chinese friends, basically says : ‘Have professional ambitions for a house and husband‘.
On any given Sunday in Shanghai similar testimonials in their hundreds line the paths of a particular corner of People’s Square known as the Marriage Market. Far from being a place for the young lovelorn to find girlfriends or boyfriends, this is a serious business conducted mostly by parents concerned for their children’s marriage prospects.
There are few photographs, and character descriptions are sketchy at best, but the eligible bachelors and bachelorettes are heavy on degrees, masters degrees and PhDs. It’s all terribly pragmatic. Middle-aged mothers and fathers perch patiently on folding stools next to their child’s qualifications, and wait for interest from other parents. Should they be short on time, there are professional brokers who will hang their child’s description for them every week and take enquiries on their behalf.
Shanghai is well-known for its mercenary marriage ‘requirements’, and most young men can forget about making a good match until they have a good income, a car, and an apartment. Marriage markets and marriage brokers exist in other cities in China, but not in the same ruthlessly prescriptive way in this city where status is everything.
What I find really interesting is how very Dickensian it all is. In 2011 we’re still using essentially the same criteria to find a good husband that the Victorians used. None of these unsuitable love matches of which no good can come. Parents want their children to make a good marriage, but always on the understanding that eligible applicants for the job of future wife or husband have such and such a level of education, or income, or social standing. In all, that their prospects are good and their fortune is solid, and if love should follow, then happy days for everyone! But is not….well, at least he’s a good earner with a Masters Degree.
But it’s just not very….romantic, is it? As Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett would say:
“What is the difference, in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive?”