How Chinese People Think about Love and Marriage
There’s an old Frank Sinatra song that says:
“Love and marriage, love and marriage,
Go together like a horse and carriage.
This I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other.”
For those that may be too young to remember the song, it still expresses the Western ideal that love and marriage must be irrevocably linked. This convention is so deep-seated that many westerners are scandalized by any civilization that does not embrace the ideal.
Do Chinese Couples Marry for Love?
In China, there are more important things in life than love, or even happiness. This is encapsulated in the widely repeated comment by a young lady on the Chinese dating show “You are the one” in 2010:
“I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle.”
Economic considerations, and the ability to care for elderly parents, weigh much more heavily than love or even happiness. That does not mean that young people would not like to marry for love, if they could, and of course some are lucky enough to get both.
The Marriage Laws (1950 and 1980) gave women equality, and also outlawed polygamy, child marriages and arranged marriages. The laws even reiterated free choice of marriage partners without third party interference.
Despite this, even today Chinese parents continue to hold sway over their young adult child as they set out to choose a marriage partner. It is imperative for the young man or young woman to make the right decision because it will affect not only the rest of their life, but also the well-being of their parents and grandparents.
Not surprisingly, a considerable amount of match-making in one form or another still goes on to help them make the best choice.
What Are the Most Important Attributes of a Good Husband or Wife?
Firstly, it is considered important that the husband and wife come from similar social status, as it is believed that a mismatch here is bound to end in failure.
It’s ok for adolescents to have feelings of love, but when they reach marriageable age then love is thought to be not only unnecessary, but probably even dangerous. More useful and important to prepare for choosing a spouse would be a good education, having a job, and maybe owning a flat.
For a good match, the man must be older than the girl, and he must earn more than she does. Despite not expecting to “fall in love”, physical appearance is also of considerable importance. Being attractive and well-groomed will influence job potential and future prospects, and, along with mannerisms and posture, are good indications of worthy attitudes and character.
How Do Chinese People Choose a Husband or Wife?
Rather than actual arranged marriages, Chinese parents have long engaged in matchmaking, thus improving the chance of a suitable match rather than just waiting for love and romance to blossom. A popular form of modern matchmaking is with Chinese Marriage Markets, (or Bai Fa Xiang Qin). This is an opportunity for parents to advertise their child with information about their age, height, job, income, education, Chinese zodiac sign, personality, family values, and even a picture. Sometimes they also include specific requirements for a suitable match.
Of course, not all young people are happy for their parents to be doing this, and so it is often done secretly without telling the children. The parents first hope to meet with the prospective in-laws to get an indication of what the child is really like, and this hopefully leads to their offspring dating and eventually to a successful match. Despite the rising popularity of these markets with the parents, they actually have a fairly low success rate.
Is It OK to Remain Single?
With an ever-increasing imbalance between the sexes, there are not enough girls to go around, so doubtless some men will be forced to remain single.
On the other hand, the expectation that women will be younger than their husbands, and earn less than them, can prove unworkable for those strong, intelligent young women who want to have a career, and the older they get, the less chance they have of getting married. And then, of course, if they do get married, they will be expected to put their career on hold to have one, or now two, children.
In the “4:2:1 family” (4 grandparents, 2 parents, 1 child) if the child does not marry then clearly this can become a problem for the aging parents and grandparents. Parents would prefer their offspring to marry, and to be wealthy and possibly happy as well.