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China: 5-year plan

A market for marriage in Shanghai’s People’s Park

Kai Ryssdal Jul 14, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: The next time somebody tries to tell you that China’s not a market economy, tell ’em this story — see what they say.

Every Saturday, in a corner of People’s Park in Shanghai, people — mostly mothers — show up with fliers and resumes and a stool, and they set up shop. Trees, benches, walls, even the walkways, are covered with what are basically want ads. It’s parents looking for a suitable match — for their kids.

It’s called zhenghun: marriage seeding. And not, apparently, always something folks there want to talk about.

Woman talking

No pictures, she says, pushing my microphone away. Her daugher would be too humiliated, she tells me.

The whole thing’s amazingly well organized. Parents can search for prospective matches by birth year, by height, by geographic location. After some looking, I finally find a mom willing to explain the whole thing to me.

Mrs. Zhao talking

It’s a place, she says, where parents look for love for their children. Her daughter’s 27, she’s an architect, totally fine with mom doing the matchmaking.

Or so mom says. So long as she winds up with a guy born between 1967 and 1983.

Ryssdal: So she’s looking for someone ’76 to ’83, so a little bit older. 1.73 meters to 1.8. She wants tall, right? She wants tall.

Five-foot-eight or taller please. If there’s a match mom likes, the guy gets her phone number. After that, Mrs. Zhao says, nature has to take its course.

This all might seem like a lot to go through just to find your child a date. But even though China is clearly a society in transition, from deeply traditional to something much more 21st century, there are still plenty of people here — parents, specifically — working with a deadline. Get married by 30, or be an old maid. It’s all about family and the very Chinese interpretation of it, Mrs. Zhao explains.

Get married, have kids, support grandma and grandpa in their old age. Now, what does all that have to do with the Chinese real estate bubble and the rising expectation of the middle class? That’s our China theme for the day. We’ll put it all together.

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