One of the most important aspects of such arranged marriages is that of match­making. It lies in the nature of the practice that the selection of the persons to be wed is performed by someone other than couple itself. In addition to the parents, advisers (e.g., astrologers), trus­ted third parties (priests, religious leaders, local barbers, family friends, etc.), as well as exter­nal agents (including websites) could assume the role of the matchmaker(s).[1],[2] While some societies still cultivate the tradition more or less openly, the rules are not as stiff as it may initially appear. In several countries (for example, Iran with the “khastegari” ritual, Japan with the “miai kekkon” procedure, Korea with the “seon” meeting), the arrange­ments remain an “intro­duction only” scheme where the parents merely acquaint their chil­dren with a poten­tial spouse. In others, age-old observances have been discouraged (like in India) or sim­ply outlawed, such as the ban on buying or selling child brides (童养媳, tóng yǎng xí) in China. Likewise, the necessity to have marriage registry forms endorsed with the seal of an “intro­ducer”, as required up until a century ago, does not apply anymore either.

In spite of the modernisation of values concerning sex, love and family, the shift towards romantic love matches has not been completed yet. In many places, especially in rural areas, arranged (or at least semi-arranged) marriages in due consideration of the traditional rules of 门当户对 (mén dāng hù duì, i.e., “from families of equal social and economic status”) are still commonplace. Although professional go-betweens still exist, arrangements are now lar­gely initiated by the parents and senior kinsmen, while the network of relatives and friends is activated to find a suitable partner. It is then not unusual for Chinese mothers to visit public parks (best examples: Zhongshan Park in Beijing, People’s Park in Shanghai) in order to meet other parents with unmarried adult children. Bristled with hope and information about their sons and daughters (Chinese zodiac sign, height, weight, educa­tion, job, car brand, wealth, food preference, birthmarks, blood type, etc.), they spend a good part of their day in a quest to find a suitable match.

It is precisely this kind of excessive zeal that drives young single girls to utter the said pro­­verb. Not only do they not agree with their parents’ involvement in the mate selection pro­cess; the main bone of contention very often lies in the different opinions concerning the appro­­priate marriage age. As the older generation would like to marry off their children soo­ner rather than later, statistics show an opposite trend. In fact, the average age of the first mar­riage has been gradually increasing (in Beijing, for instance, it grew from 25 in 1996[3] to 26 in 2009 and 27 in 2012[4]). For many reasons, including higher work requirements, smaller opportunities to meet other people, exploding wedding costs (in China particularly), etc., many young people choose to tie the knot later. Aware of the adage that “dangers await only those who do not react to life” (Mikhail Gorbachev), however, most women instincti­vely know that they cannot afford to wait for too long. Not only does the ticking of their own biological clock get louder and louder after a certain amount of time, forcing them to hurry if they wish to have babies before reaching infertility; their attractiveness to men also declines dramatically with age. In effect, age is one of the heaviest handicaps to a marriage. A study showed that women who reach 30 unmarried only have a 20 percent chance of being taken as a bride. At 35, the probability plummets to 5 percent, hitting rock bottom at 40 (1 percent).[5]

Even today, the stigma of the “old maid” (老姑娘, lăo gū niáng, or 老处女 lăo chŭ nǚ) still remains in many cultures, as the existence of other somewhat derogatory terms like “cat lady”, “catherinette” in French, “Fräulein” (in German), “kurisumasu keeki” (a Christmas cake that nobody wants after the 25th December, respectively, birthday), or “urenokori” (lite­rally: unsold merchandise, i.e., a single thirty-something woman) in Japanese prove. In China, people use the expression 必剩客 (bì shèng kè, which has a similar pronunciation as “Pizza Hut” in Mandarin) to describe those bachelors who are already beyond the typical married age and are struggling to find their better half. The time and effort they put into their careers prevent them from flirting and dating prospective partners so that they are often considered to be “doomed singles”. Along with scornful remarks and contemptuous denomi­nations, single women face intense pressures from all sides, parents, friends, collea­gues, but also from themselves. According to a survey carried out in Shanghai in 2012, the con­scious­ness about the peculiarity of their status sets in at around 26, while their concern about being seen as a “leftover” attains a peak when they were approaching their thirties (oddly enough, those ladies far beyond the standard marriage age, i.e., 50 or more do not care so much about their condition). Although 30 percent of the respondents who feel that way find the term insulting, and 78 percent see an urgency in finding a husband or boyfriend, only 18 per­cent are willing to take action – in spite of the questions and insis­tence by their parents and relatives (which 60 percent of the “leftovers” in the study expe­rience during family reunions)[6].


Notes

[1]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriage

[2]    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arranged_marriages_in_India

[3]    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2006-04/10/content_563705_2.htm

[4]    http://english.cri.cn/6909/2012/02/15/3124s681309.htm

[5]    Townsend (1998), p. 122

[6]    Cited in: Lu (2012)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s