Old tale in­spires mod­ern mar­riage mar­ket

Par­ents flock to site where leg­endary lovers are be­lieved to have stud­ied to find part­ners for their chil­dren

China Daily (Canada) - - NEWS CAPSULE - By XING YI xingyi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Sit­ting on a small hill south­west of West Lake isWan­song Shuyuan, or Acad­emy of Ten Thou­sand Conifers. It’s just one of many tourist sites in­Hangzhou, but for lo­cal res­i­dents, es­pe­cially par­ents who are ea­ger to see their mar­riage­able chil­dren find their “other half”, it is the place to go.

“Bride wanted. Sin­gle male, born in 1980, height 172cm, good-look­ing, mas­ter from top univer­sity, civil ser­vant in pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, fine-dec­o­rated apart­ment mort­gage paid, par­ents alive, af­flu­ent fam­ily.”

So reads an ad­ver­tise­ment in Chi­nese, posted on a light pole next to the main en­trance of the acad­emy.

On both sides of the road, sim­i­lar ads are hung, clipped, posted al­most ev­ery­where. Side­walks are jammed with peo­ple read­ing the ads, tak­ing notes and chat­ting with each other.

A cu­ri­ous vis­i­tor like me who tries to read these ads should be pre­pared for a ques­tion from com­plete strangers: “So, are you look­ing for a mate?”

Wel­come to the city’s Satur­day mar­riage mar­ket, where hundreds of par­ents look for their ideal son- or daugh­ter-in­law­in­front of the for­mer higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tute be­tween 9 amand noon.

It’s all thanks to the leg­end of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Ying­tai.

Liang and Zhu are house­hold names in China be­cause of their tragic love story. Also known as the but­ter­fly lovers, they are widely com­pared with Shake­speare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The leg­end traces back to the Eastern Jin Dy­nasty (AD 317-420). Women then were not en­cour­aged to at­tend school, but Zhu, a beau­ti­ful and smart young woman of a wealthy fam­ily, per­suaded her par­ents to let her study dis­guised as a man.

On Zhu’s jour­ney to school, she en­coun­tered Liang, who was go­ing to the same school in­Hangzhou. In the next three years, they lived and stud­ied to­gether, dur­ing which Zhu fell in love with Liang, but Liang failed to dis­cover that she was a woman.

Al­though Wan­song Shuyuan was built dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644)— around a thou­sand years later than the leg­end’s time frame— peo­ple still be­lieve that this is the school Liang and Zhu at­tended to­gether.

“Many tourists ask me: Where is the class­room Liang and Zhu stud­ied in?” says He Jie, guide at Wan­song Shuyuan. “Wenow­down­play the leg­end part and fo­cus on the cul­ture and his­tory of Chi­nese acad­e­mies in­stead.”

How­ever, par­ents as­sem­bled here don’t seem to care too much about whether the leg­end is his­tor­i­cally solid, as long as they have a place to find po­ten­tial part­ners for their chil­dren and a so­cial out­let for their wor­ries.

Du Xiguan, 67, started the whole thing in 2005 when he be­came wor­ried about his daugh­ter’s mar­riage prospects.

“Young peo­ple are all busy work­ing, and have lit­tle time to find­a­date,” saysDu.“Iputanad on the lo­cal news­pa­per to or­ga­nize a meeting of par­ents who have a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion.”

Du chose Wan­song Shuyuan as the meeting place, “be­cause ev­ery­one knows this is the place where Liang and Zhu’s love story started,” he says.

At first, Du ex­pected a few dozen peo­ple to come, but some 300 peo­ple turned out that day.

They shared in­for­ma­tion about their chil­dren, and when they deemed some­one to be suit­able, they noted down the con­tacts. Around lunch time, peo­ple agreed that they would come again on the next Satur­day morn­ing.

As time passed, more and more peo­ple got to know about this meeting place through word-of-mouth, and par­ents have gath­ered here al­most ev­ery week in the past 11 years, rain or shine.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to find an ideal part­ner nowa­days,” says a re­tired lo­cal res­i­dent, who would only give his sur­name, Yu. “Peo­ple are set­ting too high a stan­dard, but the re­al­ity is there is no per­fect one.”

The most wanted hus­band is “a lo­cal Hangzhou res­i­dent, with an apart­ment for mar­riage and a sta­ble job,” says Yu, while for the most wanted wife is “largely de­pend­ing on her ap­pear­ance.”

“Peo­ple should learn to be more rea­son­able,” says Yu. “What I sug­gest is that peo­ple should pay more at­ten­tion to per­son­al­i­ties and char­ac­ters.”

“My daugh­ter even­tu­ally found a hus­band among peo­ple I in­tro­duced to her, andmy grand­son is al­ready 9 years old,” says Du, who still comes to the weekly event. He runs a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides ser­vices from match­mak­ing to mar­riage coun­sel­ing.

“Now the di­vorce rate of Hangzhou rises ev­ery year, and that’s also a se­ri­ous prob­lem,” says Du.

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