Inside Shanghai’s Marriage Market

Let’s face it – dating can be complicated. People have their own preferences in an ideal partner, along with their own strengths and weaknesses. As they say, “there’s always somebody out there for everybody”. But in a country as heavily populated as China, with over 1.3 billion people, dating is also quite the challenge.

In the digital age, Tinder is one of the go-to methods of finding either a hookup, a long-term partner, or something in between. But what if you live in China, where Tinder is blocked? Maybe, depending upon your situation, that would be positive – spending months on Tinder without getting any results can be draining and sabotaging your self-esteem…

How’s this for a solution: letting your parents negotiate a partner on your behalf…?

Weekends at People’s Park

Every Saturday and Sunday at People’s Park in Shanghai since 2004, umbrellas border the pathways of People’s Park. The umbrellas are used as advertising space to hold a flyer describing the parent’s child, and what they desire in a lifelong partner in their child's best interest. Interestingly, hardly any flyers contain pictures, making this more of a blind-date market.

Looking at all the flyers posted on umbrellas was eerie to me… since I can’t read Chinese, the only characters recognizable to me were the numbers, or common acronyms (such as MS or Ph.D.). With a single flyer on every umbrella, it looked like I was walking through a memorial garden of people that I don’t even know, let’s hope that this isn’t a metaphor of their dating chances.

What’s on the Flyers?

Let’s start with an actual flyer, and its translation of a flyer that I randomly selected on the afternoon of my visit:

[Born in] 1993 Female
Height: 1.67 meters, Weight: 51kg, master’s degree,
Communist Party, “New Shanghai-ese [1]”,
Works as an HR Professional, with a salary of 200,000,
Has a house and a car
Father is still working; mother is retired
Family is living a comfortable life

Looking For: Male born between 85-93, never married, 1.75m or above
Must have at least a Bachelor’s degree from a 国家重点大学 (prestigious university)
Must be honest, a hard worker, have proper behavior, be talented, stable, generous, handsome.
Cannot have any bad habits, family, or genetics.
Must come from a good family.
{Phone Number Redacted} (Listed by Father)

[1] - Meaning not born in Shanghai

At this point, I don’t even know that the person that the flyer is describing is even aware that their parents put them up for this on their behalf. Parents tend to consider the ages of 30+ to have extreme difficulty finding a partner, especially for women. Salary and housing are the top two criteria for what parents look for.

Just think that someone could take all these flyers, store them in a database, and then run AI against it to match pairs throughout China… there’s a startup idea….

While walking through the park hearing conversations, a lot of it had the intonation of bargaining or trying to close a business deal. Parents seeking for their child will browse through the listings, and when they come across one that strikes the best interest for their child, they will start a conversation with the flyer’s owner. Conversations between parents involve salaries, future compatibility, success, and addresses all the details listed on the flyer. All the parents want is the best for their kids.

Some examples of undesirable outcomes when matching with a partner

·       No house

·       No degree

·       Monthly salary is less than 5,000 yuan

Imagine trying to measure compatibility with a Tinder profile with a short bio, while swiping at an average of 2 seconds per profile...

Final Thought

If you feel like dating (whether with or without Tinder) is hard enough, maybe you should make Shanghai’s Marriage Market an excuse to visit China. Just be sure to bring your parents to help delegate on your behalf… and you’ll need more than just good looks and height on your bio; you’ll need a high-caliber degree, steady income, and possibly the right Zodiac sign to find that ideal mate that pleases both your parents and your future partner’s.

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