China is going through a cultural crisis due to a huge generation gap between parents who lived in rural communes and their children who crave smartphones and Western values. At the same time, Chinese culture still expects children to take of the parents, and are constantly reminded of their “duty” through a variety of shaming tactics. Chinese parents actually push children into buying apartments they can barely afford to guarantee they’ll have a place to stay when they get old, as this article in Aeon Magazine describes.
‘I have a friend the same age as me,’ Luo the young professional said, ‘whose parents just paid the down-payment on her apartment. But her mom has been staying with her since November, and she wants to stay on. It’s a one-bedroom flat.’ Buying their children apartments isn’t just a simple investment for parents, but a guarantee, at least in their minds, of an old age spent in their children’s house.
With this backdrop, the Chinese approach to dating appears to be transactional, based mostly on resources instead of love.
The media often deplore the commercialised nature of young love, exemplified in 2010 by Ma Nuo, a contestant on a dating show; when asked by an unemployed contender if she would ride with him on his bike, she replied: ‘I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle.’ It’s true that the bling-laden snapshots of triumphant gold-diggers on dating sites and boastful blogs are deeply off-putting. But the criteria that parents give matchmakers, or advertise on placards that some of them carry around parks at the weekend while looking for suitable spouses for their unmarried offspring, are just as centered around salary, car and apartment.
Our Indian correspondent in the field shared similar sentiments with regard to the pressure that his parents placed on finding a mate, seemingly above his best interests. Why are Asian parents so vested in their children’s spousal selection?
At university, Sally dated a rural boy who was a student representative and, highly unusually, a sincere believer in Communism. ‘He was so honest,’ she told me, ruefully. ‘He wouldn’t even take pencils from the student council room to use for himself.’
But he couldn’t live up to the standards that Sally and her parents expected. She wanted a boyfriend who could buy her the phones and handbags she aspired to, while her parents wanted someone from a wealthy or well-connected family who could walk into a guaranteed career after university. She soon dumped him and, helped by a new nose paid for by her mother, snared a wealthy boy on campus.
A couple of years into the new relationship, however, she found the positions reversed. After being introduced to her boyfriend’s parents, his news was grim. ‘I can’t marry you,’ he told her bluntly. ‘My parents expect me to marry a girl of my own class.’
‘My mother keeps calling me and reminding me I only have a couple more years to find someone,’ commented a weary 25-year-old friend. ‘Of course, she wants me to pick one of the boring losers she keeps trying to set me up with.’
You know a country is doing well economically when the women cast aside “boring” men and instead hold out for an exciting alpha. I’ve never heard the women of Ukraine complain that their men are boring. Could increasing use of the word “boring” by females to describe the opposite sex be a reliable way to predict economic prosperity, sort of like the Big Mac index?
In response to social and parental prodding toward placing material concerns first, some young Chinese have invented a new term, ‘naked marriage,’ meaning getting wed purely for love, without house, ring, ceremony or car. The idea promises romance, but opinion is decidedly mixed, even from the young. A 2010 poll on sohu.com found that the majority of young women opposed the idea, seeing it as a way for men to dodge their responsibilities. Tellingly, the majority of young men supported it.
Western man, in spite of the poor female selection he must face, at least doesn’t have his parents hanging over his head, pressuring him not only on which woman to date, but to also to buy an apartment so they can move in and mooch off him while shaming him out of bachelorhood. Someone always has it worse, I suppose.
It takes a certain grit to dodge convention altogether. Luo, the young professional, saw no need to play the dating game at all, instead living with a moderately impoverished foreigner in his mid-thirties. ‘My mother has stopped pestering me about it, but I know she’d rather I was looking for a conventional Chinese guy, with an apartment and a career. My father says it’s OK because my boyfriend is English, not a Yankee or a Jap.
With Chinese youth rejecting their parents values, eager to hop on a Western-style carousel, are we looking at the potential for a poosy paradise eruption in five or so years? Only time will tell.
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