By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING — Zhang Dianwei is on a mission — to find his daughter a husband. But he’s not turning to the Internet or using a traditional matchmaker.
Instead, he goes most Thursdays and Sundays to a park nestled in the shadows of Beijing’s Forbidden City, carrying a printed sheet of paper listing his daughter’s details such as her age, height, education and job prospects.
He then tries to seek out his daughter’s perfect match by wandering around a small corner of the park set aside for parents searching for spouses for their adult children.
“She’s too busy to find herself a man. I only want to help her not be lonely later in life,” said Zhang, who lives in the nearby city of Tianjin. “She knows I’m here. She’s knows I’m only trying to help.”
Beijing’s outdoor marriage market — there are now four parks where impromptu matchmaking meetings take place — was started in 2004 by a group of middle aged men and women who met in a park during their morning tai chi exercises.
“It’s like a social service,” said one of the organizers, who would only give her family name of Gu. “Most people want to marry. They just don’t know the way.”
The park meetings, which organizers say can attract thousands of people at the weekends, spring from a growing trend in China in which young adults postpone marriage until later in life.
Traditionally people married young in China often in arranged marriages.
Nowadays, increasingly affluent and well-educated Chinese are either choosing to delay marriage, or not marry at all, preferring to put their careers ahead of family life.
In March, the official China Daily put the number of single men and women in Beijing and Shanghai at one million.
“Today’s ‘singles’ wave is mainly composed of high-income, busy, professional men and women 28 to 38 years old with lots of diversions and high expectations of life,” it said.
The park resounds with chatter underneath willow and pine trees. “Boy or girl?” people call out to each other.
Parents discuss the compatibility of children born under the different animals of the Chinese zodiac and even debate which blood types are more compatible for marriage partners.
Almost all the parents carry paper signs with their children’s details.
“Boy, 28, unmarried, 1.78 meters tall. University graduate, now works for a U.S. company. Monthly salary 7,000 yuan ($878.50),” read a typical sign.
Some hopeful parents laminate their signs and hang them from their necks.
If parents like what they see, they swap telephone numbers and arrange blind dates for their children.
“He’s kept us from having grandchildren for long enough,” said one man, to general laughter from the women surrounding him, all extolling the virtues of their daughters.
Some parents carry photo albums of their children, wearing graduation gowns, military uniforms or casual clothes.
“I have met some girls who looked pretty in photos,” said Lao Liu, on his third visit to the park in search of a wife for his 31-year-old son. “But when I met them in real life, I was very disappointed.”
Many echo Zhang’s grumble that his daughter, who works at a multinational company in Beijing, simply has no time to find herself a husband.
“My kids get up at 6 a.m. to go to work and only get home at 8 or 9 in the evening,” said Xiao Li. “How could they have time to find somebody to marry?”
organizers say they do not know how many matches have been made in the parks, although they believe the number to be high.
Parents like Lao Liu say that meeting their tough requirements can pose a problem. “She should be under 31-years-old, at least 1.6 meters tall, and good-looking,” he explained.
One mother said she was having a hard time finding a husband for her daughter who was particularly successful in a society where the husband traditionally rules the roost.
“My daughter makes good money and already owns her own apartment and car,” said the mother, who called herself Mrs Wang. “Most Chinese men are afraid of being inferior to their wives,” she said. “I think my daughter is too good for some men.”
Indeed, the average age that women get married in China has risen from 20 in 1990 to 24 in 2004, according to state media.
But allowing their children to remain single is not an option for many of the parents at the park.
“We’d never force her into anything,” said Xiao Tian, trying to cool herself in the muggy heat with a hand-held fan.
“If she didn’t want to marry, I suppose that’s okay, but we Chinese are very traditional. Not marrying is not acceptable in our society’s eyes,” she said as she walked off to scout out more prospects before heading home.
(Additional reporting by Reuters Television)