A marriage made in the city park

Updated: 2011-05-30 07:52

By Yang Yijun (China Daily)

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 A marriage made in the city park
Neatly laid-out sheets of paper displaying information about young singles in People's Park, Shanghai's top matchmaking haunt. Photos by Yong Kai / For China Daily

Shanghai's middle-aged parents are flocking to People's Park at the weekends to advertise information of their grown sons and daughters in hopes of finding them a life partner. Yang Yijun reports.

It is a Sunday afternoon. An unsuspecting Chen Ming walks into People's Park in the center of Shanghai and is immediately surrounded by a dozen middle-aged, mostly Shanghainese, women. Wearing big smiles, they badger him about his age, profession and even income, while also trying to ferret out what he's looking for in a girlfriend. They have spent hours in the park looking for partners for their children and naturally become animated on seeing a polite and good-looking young man walk into their midst.

People's Park is fast becoming Shanghai's top matchmaking haunt at the weekends. Nearly half the park is filled with middle-aged parents, wearing anxious looks.

Chen, a first-time visitor to the park, is taken aback by the reception he receives. "I never imagined anything like this, but I think the parents should bring their grown children with them, rather than 'date' on their behalf," says the 32-year-old university lecturer.

At weekends, the noise of parents exchanging notes on their matchmaking efforts can be heard right from the gate. They present information about their marriage-age sons and daughters in the most interesting and innovative ways.

They usually write down such details as age, height, educational background, profession, income and what their children are looking for in their partners on an A4 sheet and display this prominently. No photos are shown until some parent expresses serious interest.

Some parents attach the sheet to a paper bag, which is then placed on high ground. Others simply clip it to tree branches.

The information for men will have such details as the kind of housing they own, including location, area and sometimes even the size of individual rooms in an apartment.

The typical requirement of a prospective groom is that he be a "responsible man with stable income" or someone "who owns an apartment and a car".

The requirements of women are invariably that they be "kind, have a stable job and preferably hold a bachelor's degree".

"The parents who come here tend to focus too much on the material," Chen, the university lecturer, says. "But I feel it is one's personality that matters more."

The park has now been dubbed "the most desperate corner in Shanghai" by netizens.

One such "desperate" parent is Ma Jianhua (not his real name). He hangs his A4 sheet around his neck to make sure his son's information goes wherever he goes.

"I first came here six months ago after reading about the park's matchmaking activities in the newspaper. Since then I have been coming here almost every weekend. On days that I can't make it, my wife steps in for me," says the 55-year-old, who cycles an hour to reach the park.

Ma's 28-year-old son is a white-collar worker in a Fortune 500 company, who earns 7,000 yuan ($1,078) a month and owns an apartment. He is looking for a "caring" girl between 24 and 26, with a bachelor's degree.

"My son is too busy to date girls, so I am here on his behalf," Ma says, adding his son knows that he comes here almost every week.

"Although my son and I have different tastes, I can at least zero in on some girls who meet his requirements through conversations with the girls' parents. One's manner and character are, after all, greatly influenced by one's parents," he says.

He's had little luck so far. Although Ma has introduced several girls to his son, none made the cut.

"But I will not give up," he says. "As a father, I will not feel comfortable if I don't do something for my son.

"Besides, I believe matchmaking works. Some of the parents I used to see are no longer here. I think they must have found someone," he adds.

The matchmaking corner has also attracted many professional matchmakers, who usually charge the girls' side 100 to 200 yuan for their services. The boys' side enjoys the service for free, however. The explanation is that the number of females far surpasses that of males. However, local media have recently reported that many of the matchmakers are just swindlers who disappear after pocketing the fee.

"I know very well that there are all kinds of people here, but it's a good platform. Nowhere else in the city can you find so many candidates," Ma says.

"When parents 'date' for their children, they will inevitably focus more on material factors, such as income and housing, rather than personality and temperament, which can only be gauged face-to-face," says professor Zhang Zhenyu at the Shanghai Psychological Society, who is also consultant for Date on Saturday, a popular TV dating show in Shanghai.

Even though there are no estimates of the number of successful alliances from the park, parents remain optimistic.

"Although a friend has told me that only 1 percent of the parents here finally find a partner for their children, I still want to give it a try," says Zhong Yan, from Shandong province who is visiting her 26-year-old daughter in Shanghai.

"It's my first time here. My daughter doesn't know I'm here. She doesn't like this kind of matchmaking," says Zhong, who is spending her only weekend in Shanghai in the park.

According to a survey by China's largest dating website, among its 22 million registered members in 2010, nearly 30 percent of those between 25 and 27 in Shanghai were single. And among those between 28 and 31, more than 26 percent were single, nearly 5 percent higher than the national average.

The percentages in other big cities like Beijing and Guangzhou were also found to be higher than the national average.

"One major reason for this is that women usually expect their husbands to be more successful in their careers, but nowadays women are often as capable as men. So it becomes more and more difficult for them to find the ideal husband," Zhang, the professor, says.

 A marriage made in the city park

Parents gather in the park to pair off their adult children.


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