One Sunday afternoon, I took the bullet train from Tianjin to Shanghai for a friend’s birthday. Five hours of travelling in comfort at speeds of 300 km/hr later, I arrived in Shanghai. I took the metro to People’s Square, Shanghai’s biggest metro station in the heart of the city. I met my friends amidst the tall gleaming skyscrapers of the modern city. They were in quite a tizzy. They had stumbled upon, “The Marriage Market.”
Every weekend, parents, grandparents and matchmakers descend on to People’s Square to find a match for their loved ones/ clients. Clipped on the bushes are hundreds of flyers advertising prospective brides and bridegrooms. These include their age, occupation, education, qualities and most importantly, salary.
Grandparents walk around scouring the leaflets for those four words that separate the men from the boys,”You Che You Fang” (有车有房) literally meaning “Have car, have apartment.” This supposed criterion for marriage has come up for harsh criticism online and is considered emblematic of the increasingly materialistic nature of the new Chinese society.
To be fair, I’ve met many Chinese girls who refute this trend of looking at marriage as “a way of pulling resources” (Roseanne Lake), but their cause hasn’t been helped by Ma Nuo. When asked on a dating game show if she would go on a date with a guy on a bicycle, 20-year old Ma Nuo replied,
“I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle” (宁在宝马车里哭，也不在自行车上笑)
The comment resonated with the Chinese public and caused a great deal of soul searching among traditional Chinese people. It was popular enough for our teacher to teach it to us in class along with the word “LuoHun” (裸婚） literally translated as “naked wedding”. That’s the term for weddings where the couple does not possess the car or apartment required for a classic Chinese union.
I started off talking about the Marriage Market and drifted a little bit. For the record, I don’t mean to be judgmental of the practice. After all, marriage agencies, marriage websites and marriage columns in newspapers do great business in India. I believe that the car and apartment criterion is a function of just how crowded public transportation and how expensive housing has become in China’s biggest cities.
So next time you’re in the city on the weekend, do add the Marriage Market at People’s Square on your itinerary. If you speak Chinese, you’re in for some great conversation. If you don’t, just walk around, enjoy the hubbub and who knows, you might just bump into Ms Right or more likely, her grandparents. Or do what Hong Yi did and bring along your own flier for added entertainment!