Chinese Parents Play Matchmaker for Busy Children

In China's cities, some singles are too busy making money to date. Some have turned to big singles' parties. But others are too busy to even take that limited chance at love. So, their parents have taken it upon themselves to market their single kids.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now here's one side of a strong economy in China.

In Chinese cities, the upwardly mobile are too busy making money to date. The average marriage age is increasing sharply. In some cases, the parents of China's highly educated singles are taking matters into their own hands.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports from one of Shanghai's biggest singles parties.

(Soundbite of music)

LOUISIA LIM reporting:

Romantic music floats across this Shanghai park, where 6,000 college graduates are gathering; all on the lookout for the one. But finding Mr. Right is a tall order for some of these women.

At one group activity, women and men face-off across the table. There's an interrogation underway.

LUIEN(ph) (Single College Graduate, China): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: What job do you do? What's your position in the company?

Luien is a glamorous 23-year-old, and she's quizzing the cowering men, opposite, mercilessly.

LUIEN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: The most important thing is an individual's ability, including their earning ability, she says. I know I'm direct, but I don't want to waste time.

And time is of the essence for China's stressed singles. That's according to Karen Chan(ph), who works for the event company that organized this party.

Ms. KAREN CHAN (Event Company Employee in China): Because lots of young people, they don't have much time to make friends; because they're still too busy, and especially the white-collar people. So we do these gathering parties for them to get together.

LIM: Some are so busy they can't even attend in person. One such (unintelligible) is reserved for parents who've come to match make for their absent offspring. They're sitting, fanning themselves in the heat, alongside a stage where girls are dancing; bumping and grinding to the music.

The contrast highlights the seismic shifts that lifestyles, relationships, and values, are undergoing in China today, leaving the older generation baffled.

Among the parents is Yu Ding Chin(ph), a weary, middle-aged woman. As soon as we meet, she reels off her daughter's vital statistics, as she already has countless times.

Ms. YU DING CHIN (Mother of Single Female): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: She's 35. She's an accountant. She's five-and-a-half feet tall. I've come for her because she's on a business trip.

Ms. Yu's already given up hope for today. Chinese men won't consider marrying a woman who earns more than they do or is too highly educated, she confides. And there aren't enough men here, anyway.

There's been a demographic shift with women marrying ever later. Two decades ago, the average marriage age was 22. Now in Shanghai, it's 28. Men are tying the knot later too, and the older generation is panicking.

Mr. TSAU WANYE(ph) (Single Chinese Male): Much better for them. Very much. And they push me very much.

LIM: A bachelor at 40, Tsau Wanye's been dragged along by his parents, today. He's just returned with a Ph.D. from the U.S. He's a catch by any standards. But he says much has changed while he's been away.

Mr. WANYE: These days, the girls are starting to dating much earlier than our generations. Our generation, in the University is people that don't talk much about that, dating secrets things. And, it's quite different than ten years ago, and when I left here, and I come back - very different.

LIM: But for now, most participants are networking for their work. They've paid a steep $20 to get into this party, and they don't want to waste it.

(Soundbite of young singles talking)

In the English corner, teacher Terry Herr(ph) notes her observations from the day. She's chatting to a bespectacled young man, with the unusual name of Strong Lin(ph). He's not impressed with what she's seen.

Mr. STRONG LIN (Chinese Single Male): If some girls come to me and ask me, your salary, your house, forget it.

LIM: But to Terry, practical concerns are foremost.

Ms. TERRY HERR (Teacher): This is the reality, that a lot of girls are materialistic. Because, nobody should feel like, you know, we have to live. The quality of life. We have our dreams.

LIM: And those dreams aren't, it seems, of romance, but of condos, cars, and a future based on a sound economic footing. China's college graduates are cold-eyed pragmatists.

The popularity of the speed-dating corner, speaks of that, and of a society where everyone's in a hurry to get what they want. Too tall, too short, too rich, too poor; the reasons for rejection are never ending.

(Soundbite of clapping)

The clappers sound - eight minutes is up. The participants move on, and the frenetic dance of courtship in modern China starts over once again.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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