Economic Progress Heightens Marriage Burden
Brooke Larmer of The New York Times chronicles the matchmaking efforts of two men at opposite ends of the wealth spectrum in China, where “love hunters” and other services now dot an evolving marriage landscape:
Without traditional family or social networks, many men and women have taken their searches online, where thousands of dating and marriage Web sites have sprung up in an industry that analysts predict will soon surpass $300 million annually. These sites cater mainly to China’s millions of white-collar workers. But intense competition, along with mistrust of potential mates’ online claims, has spurred a growing number of singles — rich and poor — to turn to more hands-on matchmaking services.
China’s matchmaking tradition stretches back more than 2,000 years, to the first imperial marriage broker in the late Zhou dynasty. The goal of matchmakers ever since has usually been to pair families of equal stature for the greater social good. Today, however, matchmaking has warped into a commercial free-for-all in which marriage is often viewed as an opportunity to leap up the social ladder or to proclaim one’s arrival at the top.
Single men have a hard time making the list if they don’t own a house or an apartment, which in cities like Beijing are extremely expensive. And despite the gender imbalance, Chinese women face intense pressure to be married before the age of 28, lest they be rejected and stigmatized as “leftover women.”
Dozens of high-end matchmaking services have sprung up in China in the last five years, charging big fees to find and to vet prospective spouses for wealthy clients. Their methods can turn into gaudy spectacle. One firm transported 200 would-be trophy wives to a resort town in southwestern China for the perusal of one powerful magnate. Another organized a caravan of BMWs for rich businessmen to find young wives in Sichuan Province. Diamond Love, among the largest love-hunting services, sponsored a matchmaking event in 2009 where 21 men each paid a $15,000 entrance fee.
Matchmaking in China has also extended to the afterlife, according to the South China Morning Post, which reported last week that a Chinese court jailed four men for selling corpses on the black market to enable so-called “ghost marriages:”
On Saturday, the Xi’an Evening News reported that the Yanchuan county court in Yan’an City, Shanxi province, sentenced each of the men to more than two years in prison for stealing 10 female corpses, cleaning them up and counterfeiting their medical records to boost their prices, and selling them on the black market for a total of GBP25,000.
Ritual ghost marriages, which may date back to the 17th century BC, are increasingly rare in contemporary China – Mao Zedong tried to eliminate them when he assumed power in 1949 – but they are still practised in rural parts of Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Hebei and Guangdong provinces. Families often employ a matchmaker to help find a suitable spouse for their deceased loved ones.
The four men, with surnames Pang, Bai, He and Zhang, exhumed the corpses in the winter of 2011 from a smattering of arid, coal-rich counties in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces.