Singlehood in China

I’ve gotten to an age where still being single is a little annoying. It’s mainly due to other people’s questions, comments, whispers and attempts to recommend “the perfect guy” when they learn of my marital status.

My mother has even gotten to the point where she just points at my stomach — code for “When are you going to have a baby?” I usually joke with her to give me 10 minutes, and I’ll go downstairs and find a willing sperm donor off the street. This joke used to disgust her; now she actually seems open to the idea.

Perhaps I should move to China, a country where singledom is celebrated and parents still do the matchmaking.

I learned that China has a National Singles Day on Nov. 11 … or 11-11. It is a day when single people get together and celebrate their status with parties and karaoke and shopping. The day has actually morphed into the biggest shopping day of the year, comparable to America’s “Black Friday.” Last year, a major shopping website in China (Alibaba Inc.) netted nearly $6 billion in sales in that day alone thanks to the strategically placed promotions featured on that day. It included deals from 40 to 99 percent off. Singles weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the shopping “celebration,” it seems! My China tour guide’s husband even purchased her wedding ring at 50 percent on 11-11 last year, which I find funny.

National Singles Day aside, the tradition in China that I find even more amusing is a phenomenon that happens in city parks. I witnessed it in both Beijing and Shanghai. It is something in which my mother would love to participate, if a similar event were regularly held in Chicago …

It is good, old-fashioned matchmaking.

However, it comes with a twist. The matchmaking is done by the parents and grandparents, with not-so-subtle advertising. They come to the parks on the weekends, sit in strategic areas and set up their fliers and posters and pictures. The single candidates aren’t physically there. All of the transactions and scouting, it seems, are done by the parents and the grandparents.

My tour guide said that single adults, much like their American counterparts, are “too busy” to find a life partner. So there is no shame in putting that responsibility in the hands of their parents. It’s really not so far off from how marriages used to be arranged before our modern times. It just comes across as so odd and funny to someone who grew up in a culture where this “responsibility” is not in the hands of the parents at all.

These settings in China are a cross between an open-air market and a dating service — only one managed by parents and grandparents eager to see their too-busy children married off. There is a lot of chatting. A lot of reading. A lot of activity. I had to push my way through some of the crowds, especially in the corner of the Beijing park where this phenomenon takes place. I was asked by one man not to take any pictures — which I found ironic, considering he clearly wanted to get the word out about his single daughter.

I suppose this concept could be a nice supplement to bars and online dating. If you trust your parents. And you don’t mind your parents “pitching” you like a piece of meat.

I just wonder if the parents ask permission of their son or daughter before setting up shop in these parks?

Below are some pictures I snapped of the phenomenon in The Temple of Heaven (Beijing) and People’s Park (Shanghai).

The “Matchmaking Corner” in Beijing:

The “Shanghai Marriage Market” in Shanghai:


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