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Having seen the pressures Chinese parents bring to bear on their unmarried offspring, Jeremiah Christie said falling in love with a Chinese woman could become an unnerving experience.
The 30-year-old United States national, whohas livedandworked inChina for four years, has had relationships with local women but none lasted long. Being unmarried at his age means he has been relegated to the category of a “leftover” in the eyes of many Chinese.
“People are surprised when I tell them I’m not married and don’t have any kids,” Christie said, adding that the surprise expressed made him feel shy.
As an English teacher at Hebei Normal University in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei — the province that effectively surrounds Beijing — Christie started to become aware of the pressure applied by the “normally, you should not be single by now” philosophy when he turned 27.
That was because he had reached an age whenmost people inChina are either married or are in the process of getting hitched.
A recent report published by the Ministryof Civil Affairsshowedthat 39.4percent of the couples who married last year were aged between 25 and 29.
Christie said he felt that 27 was an appropriate age for marriage— not just in China, but in most places around the world. However, hewasincredulousandsaddened that young single people in China come under extreme pressure from their parents if they fail to marry at the “appropriate” age.
Eighty-six percent of single people ages 25 to 35 face parental pressures to marry as quickly as possible, according to a report released by a health development center run by the China Working Committee for the Care of theNextGeneration earlier this year.
These people have usually been educated to a high level and work in a different city totheir parents. Every time the parents call, they ask questions their children have come to dread, such as “have you found a boyfriend/girlfriend?” and “when do you plan to marry?”
It’s easy for the children to dodge questions over the phone, but there’s no way of avoiding the inevitable queries when they visit their parents during the holidays.
Moreover, parents often make full use of theholidaystoarrangeasmanyxiangqin— blind dates— for their children as possible.
Zhang Cui was forced to go on five blind dates during the Dragon Boat Festival, a three-day holiday in June.
The 28-year-old works in Beijing, while her parents live in Dongquancheng village in Shijiazhuang.
“My single status at the age of 28 is hard formy parents to bear,” said Zhang, adding that most people her age who still live in the village have been married for at least two years, and many have already started their own families.
“In their eyes, I’m already a leftover womanwhowill find it hard tomeet someonetomarry,” she said, referring to her parents. “But the dates they arranged were no good; themenwere usually unsuitableand for me the success rate was zero.”
The pressure can become so intense that someyoungsingle people, driven to despair by the endless nagging and frequent xiangqin, will try every means to avoid phone calls from their parents or try to avoid returning home, even during public holidays which are usually devoted to family reunions.
Some even “rent” partners— total strangers— togohomewiththemduring Spring Festival or theMid-autumn Festival, just to assuage their parents and relatives.
Zhangrefuses to rentaboyfriend, calling the idea“absurd”. Instead, sheopts to travel for the duration of the holidays: “It’s not that I don’t want to find a life partner, I’m just waiting for the right person.”
Shesaid she has learnedfromthe experience of her older sister, who rushed into marriage with a man her parents thought would make a suitable match.
The union ended after just a year, when Zhang’s sister found herself in an intolerable situation because of frequent arguments with her husband.
Despite the failure of the marriage, Zhang’s parents still believe that it is better to marry at the perceived “correct time” than to be left out.
Even though Zhang finds it hard to disobey her parents, she refuses to concede to their wishes because she doesn’t want to become a potential divorcee.
In the past decade, marital breakdown has become more prevalent in China. Last year, more than 3.8 million couples divorced, a rise of 5.6 percent from the previous year, while the number that married fell by 6.3 percent to about 12 million, according to theMinistry of Civil Affairs.
Song Qingjia, a psychologist who has worked extensively in Beijing and Hebei, said 30 percent of his customers consult him about marital problems, 10 percent of which are caused by rushed marriages.
Understanding and patience
Like Zhang, Christie is not keen on becoming a divorce statistic, so he is biding his time. However, even though he is of marriageable age, his mother supports his decision to wait.
“I grew up in a single-parent home, so having a whole family where both parents love each other is extremely important to me,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t want his children to grow up in the situation he did.
His mother, who said she wants to see him married with children, occasionally asks him about his prospects.
“She trusts me, and knows that it will happen in good time. We agreed that I’d rather wait for a goodfamily than rush into a mediocre one,” he said.
“But now I’m in China, so my mom might have been tempted to chuckle a little if I had told her I was kind of being pressured by ‘Chinese parents’,” he said, adding that the situation has never arisen in any relationship he has had in China.
Looking for dates
Li Youdong is a clinical psychologist at the FirstHospital ofHebeiMedicalUniversity. Her 22-year-old daughter is studying for a doctorate in economics, but shewon’t obtain it until 2020, by which time she will be 26.
Li is concerned that it will be too late for her daughter to find a suitable match after she graduates. “I have started asking colleagues and friends to introduce her to a potential boyfriend,” she said. “By then she may only be able to marry a leftover man, rather than an excellent one.”
Li is also concerned that if her daughter doesn’t marry before she is 28, she could miss theoptimumtime to have a baby. “It’s for her own good,” she said.
Experts say Li’s concerns are not entirely without foundation.
“The best years for a woman to give birth are from 25 to 29,” said Qiao Jie, head of the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Chinese Medical Association, in an interview with China Central Television.
As a psychologist, Li said she understands that young people and their parents have different standards for life partners, and the younger generation has little sense of time in this matter.
“Children should communicate with their parents to reduce their anxieties, and parents should give their children enough freedom and time to choose their perfect life partner,” she said.
Senior residents assess candidates for blind dates with their children at a matchmaking fair in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.