Tekst en foto’s Yeung Lap-ming (gast-redacteur)
Artikel uit editie 17
Chinese women tend to get married earlier but the age of marriage in one of the most developed cities, Shanghai, is now rising. What are the implications for them and their family of being single and available?
Standing at the Zhongshan Park(中山公園), one can hardly walk or even breathe. Some take a seat along the road with all the traffic around. They seem to be in their fifties, or maybe sixties, and they all hold a cardboard with a standard headline: ‘A husband wanted’. Are they widows? Or have they been single throughout their life? Or do they look for a soul mate?
My Shanghaiese friend told me that they stay here day after day to wait for the Mr. Right, not for themselves, but their beloved one, the only child who is only in her twenties but remains single and available.
Why being single is a matter?
In the light of the Confucianism and Chinese tradition, the lifelong mission of being a woman is to form a family and to foster the next generation. Especially when China was still a very conservative society, women did not enjoy the wide range of opportunities in education and employment. Women tended to get married at a young age, but this is no longer the case in developed cities in China. Take Shanghai for example: Despite 25 as the ideal age of marriage, there was 23.4% of women aged between 25 and 29 being single in 2005, compared with only 10% in 2000. With several established universities in Shanghai, along with the rapidly blooming economy, most women in their early twenties go for tertiary education and put their career development on higher priority than their plan for marriage and that results in the delay of their marriage.
Shanghaiese women face another dilemma. When they finish their university around the age of 23, should they plan for marriage or spend several years on developing a career? Time is not the only concern; what really matters is that the higher the position they acquire, fewer men will appear appealing to them as a companion of marriage.
Ms. Zhang, a 33-year-old woman who posted an advertisement on a banner at the Zhongshan Park, highlighted her occupation as a government official as her main selling point. In return, she expected someone taller with land property to be her future husband. In view of the rapidly climbing price of land property in Shanghai, Ms. Zhang’s great expectation is certainly challenging for many men there.
After all, despite the improved gender equality in China, the notion of men as a provider and protector is still rooted in Chinese mentality. Most Chinese women still prefer, or even require, their future husband to be a much more successful person. Even if these women do not care about the achievement of their future husband, their husband may still feel inferior or even insulted by his wife’s higher achievement.
Still, is being single a personal issue, or a family business?
Given the strong belief in ‘blood and family tie’, most Chinese families long for a grandchild, which symbolizes the succes-sion of the family tie, so the marital status of their daughter remain crucial to the family. Parents tend to be concerned about their daughter more than their son because the popularity, or the ‘market value’, of woman depreciates so quickly when woman gets older. As in a Chinese proverb: ‘男人四十一枝花，女人四十爛茶渣 [Men in their forties are like flowers in bloom while women in their forties are like exhausted tea leafs].’
The locals once told me that quite a few of these advertisements are not from the Shanghaiese; instead, the posts are mostly from people who wish to be a legal resident in Shanghai. Under the hukou (the residence permit) system, legal residents and immigrants enjoy different levels of social welfare and facilities in the city. If one were not born in Shanghai, one route to achieve the legal resident status is through marriage. In other words, marrying a Shanghaiese man not only means succession of the family tie, but also signifies improved social mobility as the privileged Shanghaiese resident status is the pass to enormous resources and opportunities for themselves as well as their next generation.
To a certain extent, searching for a life companion could be as practical as finding a business partner. Taking fame, power and fortune into consideration before marriage has long been the case in many societies. Still, the explicit way of advertising oneself at the Zhongshan Park revealed something that is beyond the story of love, romance and marriage; it also reflected a sense of insecurity among some Chinese who seem to be lost in the midst of the fading traditional values and the rapidly modernized capitalist’s ideology in the contemporary China.
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