New custom of Chinese New Year: marriage-forcing

February 11, 2011Jing Gao4 Comments, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jing: During Chinese New Year, the most often heard question for Chinese young people: “Are you dating someone now?” The most often heard New Year’s wish: “Wish you could bring a date home next Chinese New Year.” The most often heard news from relatives: “Look, *** has a date now.” Families’ marriage-forcing (bi hun, 逼婚) is a real headache for young Chinese.

Of course, unlike the brutal and vicious nature of forced eviction and demolition, the impact of marriage-forcing is emotional and psychological. It is merely a pressure that families, especially parents, exert on unmated young people, and should never be equated with arranged marriages prevalent in China until 1940s, in which children had little say over whom they were to marry and could only live up to their parents’ desires.

Perhaps the term “marriage-forcing” has demonized the well-meant tender loving care that parents initiate. Nevertheless, the coinage reflects just how tired and resistant the adult children are. Many young Chinese who make a living away from home and only return during Chinese New Year for the family reunion find the over-the-top attention on their personal matter, which is concentrated and intensified by the seven-day holiday, extremely annoying.

On Sina’s weibo, a twitter-like microblogging service, nearly 40,000 messages contain the key word “marriage forcing.” Many young Chinese bellyache their helplessness in the digital world and seek help and advice from one another.

The marriage-forcing trend seems short-lived, as one may argue that everything goes back to normal after the New Year holiday comes to and end. But really? Don’t ever underestimate Chinese parents’ pester power.

According to Sun Changhong (孙长鸿), deputy director of the Committee of Marriage and Family at China Association of Social Workers, a recent survey they conducted shows that at least 30% of respondents say they are willing to marry “for the sake of their parents”, as marriage, as they see, is also an obligation to the family.

From CRI Online

“I am so fed up with the nagging in my family. They just couldn’t digress from the topic of finding a date. I hurriedly found an excuse to run away,” Meng Shuai, who could have taken his time off until February 12, fled to Qingdao, Shandong on February 8 from his hometown in the southern part of the province.

26-year-old Meng Shuai is a typical handsome man in the eyes of Chinese girls. Since graduating from Jinan University, he has been working as an interior designer in Qingdao. What lets his family down is that he, as a heartthrob since childhood, hasn’t brought a single girl home yet. Meng Shuai said, “My mother has been urging me to marry since my graduation. It’s been two years. It was okay when I came home in ordinary times. It was just the two of them. But when I came home for the Chinese New Year, there were so many relatives to meet. Each one of them, on exchanging greetings, would ask me ‘Are you dating now? Why haven’t you brought a girlfriend home?’,”says Meng Shuai, “I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. So I’ve hurriedly run back to Qingdao to stay undisturbed for several days.”

Feng Zeng, from Qingdao, was also scared by the marriage-forcing vibe in her family. “How was that related to caring about me? That was like interrogating suspects.” On the evening of the second day of the New year, a dozen of relatives sat in the living room discussing her marriage problem. “You are 27 now. In the old society, you would not be wanted by anyone at this old age. ” Feng Zeng’s 25-year-old brother has got married. Her sister-in-law is pregnant. As the older child at home, she felt increasing pressure to marry year by year. Her mother even passed a smart remark that “You should hasten to marry a passable guy. Otherwise your father and I cannot even raise our heads in front of our friends. You are becoming a spinster.”

Wang Dehang from Jiaozhou, Shandong, works at a bank in Qingdao. He returned to his hometown two days before the New Year’s Eve. He had hardly sat down in the couch when his parents pushed him to go on a blind date. “My dad and mom even reserved a table for us. I was thinking, since I just got home, don’t fail to live up to their good wish. So I went. Didn’t know it was just the beginning of a nightmare.” Each following day except for the New Year’s eve, he had to go out on a blind date. He went to two on the Fourth day of the New Year. “I was almost like a robot. Had no idea how did they come up with so many people. Like the child of a friend of a relative, or a daughter of a sister of a colleague’s neighbor…I’ve spent quite a lot on dining out and seen so many people. Even my impression of their looks is vague, let alone my feelings for them.

Mr. Zhang, 30, single, is an architectural designer at a studio in Shanghai. For the past five years, going on a blind date has been the important chapter of his Chinese New Year. “I took seven days off for the Chinese New Year, and dedicated five of them to blind dates,” Zhang said, “I think dating and marriage is all about fate. So far, I haven’t met a girl that I feel fated (to be together). I have been busy with work, so I have put the thing aside. For the past two years, my parents arranged blind dates even before I got home. I got increasingly senseless to this. Normally at the end of the day, we left a cellphone number to one another and be ordinary friends.”


A mother displays her son's basic information like age, job, personality and phone number at a blind-date market in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning province, April 3, 2010. [Photo/CFP

From China News


Zhou Zan, from Xiangtan, Hunan province, coasted through the test this year. Born in 1981, he established a career in Fuzhou, Fujian province. Every time he went home for the Chinese New Year, he had to deal with his parents’ marriage-forcing, juggle with blind dates set up by his family, and live with the “peer pressure” from his married friends. “I have a happy-go-lucky attitude towards romantic relationship. But my grandma (paternal), who raised me up from a little boy, is already 80. I fully understand her expectation that I can start my own family as soon as possible.” In order to put his grandmother at ease, Zhou Zan decided to form a “temporary duo” with his female friend in Fuzhou and go home to grapple with the extenuating marriage-forcing.


According to the website of Ray, a women’s fashion magazine, among middle class and white collar workers, rent-a-date rose to the occasion. It is simply a countermeasure for parents’ nagging, and no sex is implied. A 26-year-old businessman from Chongqing offered 10,000 yuan (US$1,500) as the seven-day rent for a beautiful temporary girlfriend. Another man surnamed Li in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, advertises himself as the ideal boyfriend for rent, since he was not going home this year, and priced himself at 200 yuan ($30) per day.

Maybe the notion that people should tie the knot in their 20s sounds amusing to the westerners, the deadline was even at a much younger age in the old days. In the spirit of the Confucius values, one should first cultivate oneself, then start a family, and finally pursue a career, as family duties are the primary basis of a society. In ancient China, girls were normally betrothed before 16. Some boys born in rich families had pre-adolescent wives-slash-servants at birth.

Besides, as stated previously in a MiniTofu story about paternity test, ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius (the most important predecessor successor of Confucius) said that “There are three ways to be unfilial, the worst is having no child.” Many of the modern-day Chinese parents who force marriage on children simply want to have a grandchild.

“Thanks” to China’s stringent family planning policy to control the population, the marriageable age by law is 22 for males, 20 for females, so the pressure to marry is greatly deferred for most young people, especially those work and live in cities. But family planning, specifically one child policy, has also exacerbated the urgency, as the prospect of being a bachelor looms large for tens of millions of men in surplus as a result of Chinese preference for boys and gender-selective abortion.

Despite the surfeit of males, single women are equally a good anxiety of their parents, as in male-dominant China, “leftover women (sheng nü, 剩女)” are a social issue. Women entering the age of 30 have exceedingly great difficulty in finding mates, despite or because of the fact that many of them are professionally or financially successful, and the rest of them are simply slighted due to their “old age” relative to women under 30. They are thought of as “being left over by men.”

Correction: Mencius is a successor, not a predecessor, of Confucius. We apologize for the typo.

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4 comments to “New custom of Chinese New Year: marriage-forcing”

  1. Cleo | February 12, 2011 | Permalink Reply

    I wish there was some kind of biological switch that would prevent our fertility until we crossed paths with our true loves. Just think no unwanted pregnancies, no children born into bad marriages.

  2. 海狗 | March 6, 2011 | Permalink Reply

    Guys, Mencius was not a predecessor of Confucius.

    • Jing Gao | March 6, 2011 | Permalink Reply

      Thank you for bring that to our attention. We have made the correction.

  3. LAla | September 19, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    “26-year-old Meng Shuai is a typical handsome man in the eyes of Chinese girls. Since graduating from Jinan University, he has been working as an interior designer in Qingdao. What lets his family down is that he, as a heartthrob since childhood, hasn’t brought a single girl home yet. Meng Shuai said, “My mother has been urging me to marry since my graduation. It’s been two years. It was okay when I came home in ordinary times. ”

    Interior designer! – maybe he will bring home his boyfriend next year.

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