ZHAO Rongrong, a native of Nanjing, capital city of neighboring Jiangsu Province, is very anxious about the marriage prospects of her son.
“He’s 32 already but still doesn’t have a stable relationship. Last year, I began to introduce different girls to him, but it didn’t seem to work at all,” she says.
“I’m not sure whether he’s keeping a relationship quiet or really doesn’t have a girlfriend. I’ll see if he goes out on Valentine’s Day evening,” she adds. “It would be a big relief to me if he can find a girl to marry as soon as possible.”
Zhao’s concerns are shared by many parents in China, with the younger generation’s attitude toward marriage a source of family conflict.
In Chinese tradition, it’s usual to marry before 30 to avoid being deemed shengnu or shengnan — a leftover woman or man. Some parents even pressurize their offspring to start a family before they turn 30.
But such parental pressure can sometimes have the opposite effect and make their children more determined only to settle down when they choose.
A survey published this week by China’s leading dating website zhenai.com found that 57 percent of single women and 48 percent of single men surveyed would rather stay single than make a hasty decision and marry someone who they may not love. The old saying “marry in haste and repent at leisure” is the view of many singles in China.
The study also found that only 2 percent of women and 7.6 percent of men are willing to look for dates because of pressure from family or friends.
Tensions arise between offspring who accuse their parents of meddling and parents who protest that they’re simply trying to help and point to tradition.
This conflict was highlighted by a controversial television advertisement for Baihe, one of the country’s biggest dating website. It showed a young woman visiting her grandmother in hospital on several occasions, each time leaving her grandmother disappointed as she’s still unmarried.
Then she arrives in a wedding dress along with her husband and is greeted by beaming smiles from her grandmother.
Many women complained that this perpetuates an outdated view, saying that women should marry someone simply because of family pressure — in this case, obedience to their grandmother.
Faced with a barrage of criticism, Baihe issued a statement saying that the ad storyline was adapted from a real case.
The survey also reveals other aspects of the sexes’ attitudes toward relationships. For example, almost 48 percent of men who participated in the survey said they were willing to wait for their dream girl if she was already in a relationship — hoping the couple would split and that they could move in and woo her on the rebound.
But females participants were disdainful of the idea of being a “backup” girlfriend, waiting in the wings, with just 16 percent accepting the idea.
“I’m not so terrible, and I’m capable of find a boyfriend myself, so why should I become the backup for others? It’s really uncomfortable to be called a backup, no matter whether in a relationship or in any other situation,” says Zhang Qi, a Shanghai office worker in her 20s.
Zhang’s words are echoed by Judy Mai, a Chinese high school student studying in Australia, though she doesn’t entirely rule out being a backup.
“Probably not, I think. But it also depends on how much I love this guy and how much he likes me,” she says.
However, while the sexes were divided on the merits of being a backup, they agreed that in the event of a relationship ending, it would be good to have a host of admirers ready to step in and date them on the rebound.
This means more options in dating and marriage, both sides agreed.
“No one will deny or refuse to have a backup girlfriend, that’s for sure. No one would shut a door on himself,” says Wang Jun, a businessman from Changzhou, Jiangsu Province. “That would be like giving up an opportunity.”
The research also found that almost three times as many older respondents were open to a whirlwind romance and marriage than the younger generation.
Sex before marriage
Some 58 percent of men and 47 percent of women born before the 1970s said this was acceptable, while only 29 percent of men and 18 percent of women born in the 1990s approve of such behavior.
And when asked about attitudes toward sex before marriage, while more than half of women born in the 1970s surveyed were open to the idea of premarital sex, more than 70 percent of women born in the 1990s disapproved.
“Older people have greater life experience than younger ones. Maybe it’s because of the difference of their level of maturity,” Joshua Graham, a foreign teacher living in Shanghai, comments.
“I think it’s because people in their 40s have a sense of urgency to get married, while teenagers don’t. Teenagers are always idealistic,” Chen Guodong, a retired teacher in the city, says.