Blast from the past: Shopping around at the Shanghai marriage market

Originally posted June 3, 2013

On a sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, I stopped by People’s Park in the center of Shanghai. There I was interested to find the famous marriage market in full swing.

A huge crowd of Shanghainese parents milled around, shopping for spouses for their absent sons and daughters in this outdoor Chinese version of Match.com. They browsed among thousands of flyers advertising single men and (mostly) women hanging personal ads with brief descriptions and requirements, for example:

Translation:

Hubei Province girl. Born in 1986. 1.60 m tall. Self-taught undergraduate degree. State-owned enterprise. Monthly salary 4500 yuan [about $733]. Delicate/graceful. Pretty.

Seeking: Height about 1.75 m. Undergraduate degree or higher. Stable job. Any area.

In China, the idea of parents literally shopping around for a match for their offspring seems almost normal, even if the sons and daughters in question – nearly all of them working adults, in some cases living overseas – may resent and be embarrassed by such heavy-handed paternalism. To be sure, the Shanghai marriage market is something of a curiosity and not by any means the main venue for people to meet their significant others in this city. I sensed an air of desperation to the place – after all, it’s hard to imagine that men and women whose parents feel compelled to sit in People’s Park like street vendors, displaying personal ads clipped to open umbrellas, are busy fending off the opposite sex.

It’s possible, though, that I’m wrong, and that many happy relationships are forged by the bustle of the marriage market. In any case, the People’s Square Blind Date Corner (its official name) seems to offer a good opportunity for parents to sit around, stroll and mingle outside, shooting the breeze with each other – an activity that aging Shanghainese tend to enjoy.

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