Olivia Seaton-Hill

With (Western) Valentine's Day almost upon us – the Chinese version, Qixi/Qiqiao Festival, is in August - love was certainly in the air during my last visit to Shenzhen's Lian Hua Shan Park. Okay, maybe not quite love, but matches certainly were being made. I know that in this modern world it can often be difficult to find the perfect partner. We're always so busy, too busy to date. But what if we had our parents' help to find a match? Well, that is the fate of many unlucky-in-love Chinese men and women, who are affectionately referred to as leftovers.

After enjoying all that Lian Hua Shan Park had to offer on a day off – visit here if you like lakes, kites, short hikes and hidden tombs – I was ready to head to home. As my friend and I made our way towards one of the park's many exits we noticed a busy walkway filled with people and what seemed to be posters. Intrigued, I suffer badly from FOMO, I insisted that we wander over to investigate further. At first glance, I can't read much Chinese, the posters displayed information about people: weight, height, ages, some had pictures and always a phone number.

Marriage markets in China
Marriage markets in China

I turned to my friend and said, “these are all missing people.” Shocked, and also slightly uncomfortable, we looked around at the hundreds of posters on show and made a hasty exit. As we rushed away, we noticed that nobody else seemed terribly moved or disturbed at the sheer volume of unaccounted for citizens. Puzzled, we whipped out our phones and used the lifesaving translate feature on WeChat. These, thankfully, were not posters for missing people. These were, in fact, resumes for husbands and wives placed here by the parents of unmarried “children” over the age of 25. We were in the middle of a marriage market.

It is widely expected in China that people will marry before the age of 25 or else they will be considered leftover. If their children are not married by this age, it is not uncommon for families to become anxious, concerned and even ashamed. In an attempt to fix this “problem”, mothers and fathers will flock to marriage markets in city parks across China armed with their child's marriage resume. Parents will include education and work histories, achievements and languages spoken alongside the earlier mentioned traits. It's like Tinder, but on paper, with all your details, no cheesy chat up lines and your parents have access to your account.

During our unplanned visit I stopped to take a picture - I wasn't sure if people would believe me back at home without evidence - and ran out of film. We sought refuge on a bench so that I could rummage through my bag for fresh film one to pop in. Whilst doing this I became aware of my friend having a conversation with a couple of Chinese men and women. Her Chinese is pretty good so I left her to it and continued to faff. Film changed, I stood up ready to continue our adventure. I was confused to see that there were now around 8 or 9 men and women talking to us. It seemed we had an audience. “They want to know if we like their sons” my friend told me. “Let's get out of here!”, I said. Giggling like little school girls we made an even hastier exit than our first. It turns out I had stopped to change my film in front of the section of men born in the 1990's - the perfect age for us!

There are many differing opinions on marriage markets. Some are good, some are bad. Do your own research and form your own opinions. One thing is for sure, they make for an entertaining day out.

Marriage markets in China

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