The World of Chinese - - Cover Story - - HAN RUBO (韩儒博)

Mar­riage mar­kets may be as­so­ci­ated with des­per­ate par­ents seek­ing life part­ners for their chil­dren, but China's pub­lic parks are now be­com­ing hot­beds for huanghun­lian (黄昏恋), or “twi­light love.”

Usu­ally di­vorced or wid­owed, the par­ties to th­ese aged if amorous ar­range­ments flout yet an­other taboo in China: un­mar­ried co­hab­i­ta­tion. Some 20 per­cent of cou­ples aged 18 to 60 are “liv­ing in sin,” ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by Ren­min Univer­sity emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor Pan Suim­ing, while around 59 per­cent have no plans of get­ting hitched.

Some cou­ples co­habit for con­ve­nience— split­ting rising ren­tal costs, for ex­am­ple—or com­pan­ion­ship, es­pe­cially the so-called “twi­light” two­somes. For oth­ers, it's a case of coitus­non-in­ter­rup­tus: Pan's sur­vey sug­gest a high level of sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion among young co­hab­itees, com­pared to mar­ried cou­ples. A 2005 global sur­vey by con­dom man­u­fac­turer Durex found that 70 per­cent of mar­ried Chi­nese were dis­ap­pointed with their spouse's performance, and 44 per­cent did not dis­cuss their needs, mak­ing Chi­nese among the “shyest lovers in the world.”

Of course, co­hab­itees could have it much worse—up un­til 2001, it was il­le­gal un­der mar­riage law for a cou­ple to live to­gether with­out the le­gal for­mal­i­ties of mar­riage. Even to­day, if one or both part­ners are still mar­ried to an­other, co­hab­it­ing re­mains il­le­gal. Still, 3.5 per­cent of Pan's mar­ried re­spon­dents ad­mit­ted to vi­o­lat­ing this law.

Live-in re­la­tion­ships un­fet­tered by the bonds of tra­di­tional mar­riage might sound at­trac­tive to some, but lack of le­gal pro­tec­tions or so­cial benefits are likely to hin­der the idea from go­ing main­stream—for now.

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