Old tale inspires modern marriage market
Parents flock to site where legendary lovers are believed to have studied to find partners for their children
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.