Editor’s Note: Have you noticed that your Chinese friends often talk about dating and marriage? Have they told you that their parents wanted them to find someone soon? If so, why? This post explains to you the reasons behind this cultural phenomenon and how you might be able to enter into their world on this topic.
I sat across the table from Jin, a graduate student at Northeastern. She looked stressed. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “I had a very stressful conversation with my parents.” Jin said. “On the Chinese New Year?!” I was perplexed. ‘Yes, they kept asking me to look for a boyfriend. I don’t have a job yet. But they are more concerned about me getting married since all the relatives are asking them about it.” Jin answered in tears. Jin is not alone, I have had many similar conversations with girls, including a 19 year old girl facing pressure from her mom to find a boyfriend. Why are Chinese parents so concerned about marriage?
Traditionally, family is held as a high value in Chinese society. An important part of filial piety is getting married and having children. For many parents, they view finding a spouse for their child as part of their responsibility. If someone is single, his/her life is deemed incomplete. Some guys rent girlfriends for the Chinese New Year. This was the theme of a recent TV show. They do this to deal with the pressure from their parents and relatives. In the past, Chinese have gotten married in their early 20s, and for women, sometimes as early as 18. However, as the culture changes, more and more young people are choosing to pursue their education or career first. As a result, the age of marriage has been rising.
About a decade ago, the word “Shen Nv”（剩女) began being used to describe women who are unmarried and over the age of 27. The literal translation of the word means “leftover women”. The word has a negative connotation, implying that no one wants the women, not that the women has chosen to stay single. Traditionally in a Chinese marriage, men are older than women. So to some, the older a woman is the slimmer her hope of getting married. That’s why many parents are seemingly desperate for their children to find a spouse. There have been a number of Chinese matchmaking reality TV shows. The SKII commercial vividly portrays this reality that many parents and daughters are facing. Parents of young men are also at the famous People’s Park in Shanghai in hopes that they can find a suitable wife for their child. My father was once one of these parents. Even though I struggled with the pressure he gave me, my heart ached for his concern because he put his hope in a marriage for me rather than in Christ.
On the other side of the coin, is the rising rate of divorce. According to China Daily, the national divorce rate has risen sharply since 2002. Divorce is no longer considered taboo. The latest statistics show a 5.6% increase from 2014- 2016. Why is this so? Spouses no longer feel the need to sacrifice their own happiness for their children and for an image of a unified family. Most couples who are filing for a divorce are post 80s and 90s and are themselves the only child of their family. Thus they lack the personal skills of tolerance and patience. Mostly though, it is the rush to get married because of parental pressure, causing many to resent their decision because they feel like they had to settle with an undesirable spouses.
Conversations like the one I had with Jin is not uncommon in my ministry with Chinese students. Once I found myself talking to a girl who decided to get married knowing that the marriage would not last long. She did so because of her parents’ pressure. How should we respond to these students? It’s always good to listen and try to understand their feelings and struggles. For those who struggle with singleness, these verses can be comforting and encouraging, Psalm 23:1-3, 139:13-18, and the story of the woman at the well in John 4. I often share my own journey of singleness and how God fulfilled my thirsts and longings for companionship through His words and his people, and how my identity in Him really helped me combat the idea of being a “leftover women.:. I also find it helpful to share my own marriage now to paint a realistic picture of what a marriage is and what a marriage is not.
Thoughts to Ponder
Have you known Chinese students who feel pressured to date and marry? How does this make them feel?
What are your own views on singleness and marriage?
What are some ways you can engage with Chinese students on this topic?