China’s Love Market

In traditional communist China, the Western notion of love
simply did not exist — or perhaps, existed only as a devotional
term uttered preceding direct objects like ‘Chairman Mao’ or ‘the
Party.’ Likewise, marriages of this era occurred exclusively by
means of the unromantic process of filial arrangement. Yet,
according to Xiao Jia Gu, writing in a
New Statesmanpiece (that’s unfortunately now behind a
paywall), as communism concedes ground to empowered individual
consumers in modern China’s increasingly market-oriented economy,
the imported idea of ‘romantic love’ seems to be increasing
proportionally in value — for better or worse.

The integration of the long-held (and rarely questioned)
dictates of communism with free consumer agency, notes Xiao Jia Gu,
has added an element of ‘choice,’ as well as a certain
commodification of the individual, to the institution of Chinese
marriage. For example, in Beijing, parents of marriageable age
children meet routinely at a ‘love market’ to compare their
respective children’s photos, work histories, salaries, and animal
signs in an attempt to gauge compatibility, or, better yet, strike
it rich with the likes of a ‘diamond bachelor.’

For their part, actual marriage candidates — likely, the
products of faithful communist, one-child households — often
struggle more intimately with both the romantic and economic
aspects of ‘love.’ Xiao Jia Gu highlights the young professionals,
‘some with PhDs’ among them, who find consolation through attending
a self-proclaimed ‘school of love.’ And even though the class’s
teacher espouses accessible romantic ideals, he does so for a
market fee, because, as Xiao Jia Gu’s laments, ‘[w]here there is
confusion, there is also a business opportunity.’

This sentiment certainly rings true for Beijing’s many law
firms, making a nice profit from that other imported staple of
Western love: divorce. In fact, China’s soaring divorce rate, up by
500 percent in the last two decades, has even spurred a hit TV
drama, simply titled, Chinese-Style Divorce. This high
divorce rate reinforces the perils of competitive market love and
allows Xiao Jia Gu the grounds to ponder whether the ’emotional
contours’ that lay ahead for the Chinese people ‘will be as harsh,
in their own way, as the world they survived.’ — Evan
Noetzel

Go there >>
China’s Love Market

Related Links:
The State of Love and Trust (in
Shanghai)

Related Links from the Utne Archive:
That’s
China!

Mao
Mania

Comments? Story tips?
Write a letter to the editor

Like this? Want more?Subscribe to Utne
magazine

UTNE
UTNE
In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.