Marry Me! Match.com Meets Country Fair

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For those few of us who doesn’t read Mandarin, these rows of neatly arranged sheets of papers might look baffling. Some sort of calligraphy display?

This is an open-sky marriage market in Shanghai, China. There are many more places all over China where such places exist.  Thousands of parents visit these markets in search for “marriageable material” suitable for their children.

Age, height, income, education, Chinese zodiac sign and assets, such as cars and apartments, of the children for whom parents hope to find prospective spouses are all there, on these non-virtual low-tech adverts.

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Every Saturday and Sunday between noon and 5pm, regardless of the weather, the People’s Park in Shanghai is crowded with mothers and fathers studying the Lonely Hearts messages that adorn the grounds.

The children might or might not be aware of their parents’ weekend activities. Those who do know, often feel uneasy or even embarrassed. They do understand, however, that marriage markets are very much in keeping with tradition.

Parents arranged their children’s marriages for ages, and they continue to do so in modern, much changed China… with diminishing success.

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The parents walk around chatting with other parents to see if there is a match only after their children’s standards are met. The first step is to establish contact between the parents on both sides and if the parents agree to contact, then, hopefully, their sons and daughters might take it from there and, god knows…

Parents having sons of marriageable age are particularly eager and anxious. China is experiencing shortage of brides. For almost three decades China’s one-child policy and medical advances that have allowed people a choice of having a boy, significantly skewed the gender ratio.

A boy plays in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 3, 2012.

A boy plays in Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 3, 2012.

“Dramatic excess of young men,” is becoming one of key challenges for China, scientists warn. Around 30 million more men than women are expected to reach adulthood by 2020.

Besides, the young generation of Chinese women are generally in less of a hurry to get married, for there are more pressing matters such as careers. This trend is not unique for China.

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This pretty young woman looks interested… However, her interest might be just an idle curiosity…

“Many young men will have to accept bachelorhood, a condition which often drives men to crime, even suicide and depression. Women on the other hand, will be scarcer, though whether that will lead to an improvement in their current low and often abused status is questionable.”

Many parents, disheartened as they might be, remain hopeful and turn up at the market week after week, month after month, year after year…

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