We did some sightseeing over the weekend. We went to the Jing’an Temple. I suppose it’s true for any place of worship in a big city, but nestled between skyscrapers and concrete, the Buddhist temple seemed a little out of place. We hopped out of the taxi in front of the “Donut King”, but the smell of incense was overwhelming. The original structure dates back to the third century but it’s hard to tell what, if any, of that original structure exists. It was “rebuilt” for the 2010 Expo and critiques say it has lost some of it’s original charm. While that may be true, visiting a Buddhist Temple is a lot more fun for toddlers than say, a Christian cathedral.
We entered into an open patio-like area where people were walking and talking freely. People were gathered around what looked like two large grills, flames a-blazing – way cooler than little tea candles on an alter. On the left and right, there were small rooms with Buddha statues and a place to kneel and pray. People were lighting incense sticks and holding them in front of the large Buddha statues while they prayed. At one point a group of about a dozen women gathered in a line and started chanting in the open area.
People were walking in and out of the rooms while others were praying, giving the impression that Buddhists are respectful but not overly formal. It felt a little odd to be taking pictures but no one seemed to care. In the center of the patio/atrium area was a big fountain where people were throwing coins. (Huge hit with the under 2 crowd.) The higher you get your coin, the more prosperity you will receive. In front of the fountain were two sets of steep stairs leading to the most impressive Buddha.
Maybe I was more sensitive because I was with two toddlers but the whole experience seemed a little more welcoming than a church where you’re always afraid you’re breaking a rule. We arrived early and did not wait in any line but were surprised to see quite a long line had formed when we left. Maybe the experience is a little different when it is crowded, or maybe because it was in the middle of a big city, or maybe because I’m not Buddhist, but nothing about the temple seemed particularly sacred to me.
We decided to walk back to People’s Square and at the entrance to the park, we noticed a busy market but no fruits, no vegetables, no clothes, no jewelry, no tiny Buddhas or flowers. What were they selling…? Their children. We had found the “marriage market.”
Like any other market, there were tables set up with posters hanging and lots of people shopping. Most of the posters list only the “important” stats of their children – sex, zodiac sign, age, height, education and job. Very few have a picture because “looks aren’t that important.” I suppose not, since the people shopping don’t actually have to marry the prospects. The average age of both the buyers and sellers, I’d say was between 50-60. This well known market attracts parents desperate to find a love connection for their children and pretty much sums up the growing generation gap between today’s 20 and 30 something Chinese and their parents.
After doing a little reading on the subject, I’ve come to learn that most parents go to the market either without their kids’ blessings or without their kids knowing. The success rate is “worse than a job fair.” You have to pay a small fee to advertise and “renew” every few months and most people end up shopping (unsuccessfully) for years. One article I read said it’s only been in existence since 2004 but I haven’t been able to confirm if that is true. There are more females for sale than males which makes sense given their well known gender imbalance. For the parents of this new generation of educated, professional and “Westernized” youth, marriage is still a priority and the longer the child is single, the more embarrassing it is for the parents. In another article I read, a parent talked about how his daughter went to study in England and by the time she came home, it was “too late” to find a boyfriend. The daughter does not regret studying abroad but the father said there is nothing more important than marriage.
Some people claim it’s just like online dating, only “in real life” but, unless your parents are controlling your online profile, I don’t see how this is analogous.
Admittedly, when I first started writing this I was a little horrified at the idea of selling your offspring but I’m not actually sure if any money is actually exchanged (other than the advertisement fee). I’m sure most Chinese twenty-somethings laugh it off or just try to ignore it as best they can and the parents are just looking out for their kids best interest, so what’s the harm?
At the end of the day, I take it as a reminder that we parents (at all ages and in all cultures) may make some misguided decisions but ultimately we are all, always, trying to give our children the best lives possible. And now, being a parent, I can see how someday, if my boy brings home some floozy of a girl, this marriage market idea might seem like the greatest idea. Ever.