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Find your child a mate? It's a walk in the park

Couples who have just been married walk down the European-styled Central Avenue in the northern Chinese city of Harbin.

KAI RYSSDAL: This is the year of the pig, as you might have heard. Specifically, the year of the golden pig in the lunar calendar. It comes only once every 60 years. And that's lending special significance to Lunar New Year celebrations taking place in China this week. Children born this year are supposed to have easy and happy lives.

But young Chinese adults are having some tougher times. Tens of millions of them are unmarried, and too busy working in the new Chinese economy to look for spouses. So their parents are lending a hand, as Marketplace's Scott Tong reports now from Shanghai.


SCOTT TONG: People's Park is the kind of Central Park of Shanghai. You can fly kites, feed pigeons . . . and find a spouse for your child.

Every Saturday afternoon, a few hundred 60-somethings amass at what's called "Parents-Matchmakers Corner."

This mom has a 28-year-old daughter. She works long hours at a multinational company.

There's no old-school arranging marriages going on here. It's more for parents to . . . facilitate the process of their only children getting hitched and producing heirs.

The parents mingle, they whip out photos and they trade phone numbers. And each child is represented by a laminated sheet of paper — a resume / personals ad.

My assistant, Linda Lin, reads one of them: single Asian woman, college degree.

LINDA LIN: BA, U.S. company, apartment manager, fat monthly salary. Fat salary.

TONG: Fat salary . . .

LIN: Fat salary . . .

Is seeking out:

LIN: Good looking, integrity, above 1.75 meters, BA or above, stable job and income.

And, he must own a house or apartment. As in renters need not apply.

This old man explains he's spouse-hunting for his granddaughter.

GRANDFATHER: If you're a man and you don't own a house or apartment, you don't even have a financial base.

Most folks here represent single women. And most don't tell their kids they're here.

Why? Perhaps cause their kids would be horrified?

Jane Hua is similarly creeped out. She's 30.

JANE HUA: It's your child, not a commodity you can just . . . put everything in the paper and say "What's your daughter's condition and what my son's condition is, blah blah blah." If my parents want go here, definitely no. Never.

Then she suggests, very politely, that we leave.

So we chat indoors — about qualified, single men in Shanghai. And why the apparent tight supply chain.

Some say the best men have gone overseas for school or for work. Others cite a statistical surplus of career women in the city.

But 30-year-old Yiyi Yin says it's culture. She says lots of men on her "A-list" have trophy wives.

YIYI YIN: Generally, "A" guys are attracted to "B" kind of girls, means not their equal. Are less powerful, earn less. And prettier, younger and more submissive.

Which leaves the successful A-list women out of luck.

YIN: And you're left being single. So that's why a lot of my girlfriends are single. Unless they're willing to totally discount the social situation and going with the "C" guys. But it's very rare that for the A girls to go out with C guys.

Jane Hua seems not so picky. She subscribes to the "All you need is love" school: she doesn't care about a good salary or his homeownership.

But her parents? They care. And so they come to Matchmakers' Corner at Peoples' square — to scout out mates for their kids.

Ambience: Couple

This couple is here for the first time. Mom notes the stiff competition for their daughter.

Dad has stage fright.

DAD: [Chinese]

"What do I do," he asks, "just go up to someone and start talking to them?"

MATCHMAKER: Do you want boys' information or the girls?

Now here's someone who isn't shy: a boyfriend / girlfriend broker.

She asks me what I'm looking for and then I tell her. And then she whips out a list of several hundred women. Not surprisingly, this broker has more available women than men.

But that may eventually change. All across China, a lot more baby boys are born than girls. Many people still prefer sons.

Statistically, many of those sons will eventually become lonely bachelors. Which will improve the marital bargaining position of Chinese women.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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