Marriage in China

Research plan into the history of ‘arranged’ marriages in Chinese society and outline of possible methods which can be used to analyse other factors also contributing to the marriage decline.

Different countries have different customs and traditions in regards to love and marriage. In the western society we live in, the popular assumption about love and marriage is that they are equal, with marriage being a decision based on an individual couple. However in many other societies around the world, marriage acts as an extremely important ritual and the fundamental means of creating bonds between different families or predecessors.

Marriage is not only the merging together of common individuals, but the merging of one family to another, in a bond regarded as ‘mutually’ beneficial to the increase of fortune and power for each side. As an important way of merging bonds between families, the interests of marriage are often considered to be too great to allow young adults to select their own partners.

The establishment of marriage is found in nearly all societies in the world, this fact clearly reflecting the importance of reproductive and sexual functions in human life. In the history of marriage in China, traditionally, Chinese people married through the arrangements of their parents or most important family elders.

This idea of an arranged marriage, made decision-making and finding a ‘suitable’ partner, a tactical opportunity for parents to choose a spouse for their child, as someone from whom they felt they could gain social, political or financial benefits in the long term.

As Jack. M. Potter’s book ‘China’s peasants’ expresses, “The law did not substitute the necessity to form marriages on a basis of love, rather the law takes it for granted that marriages will be formed in a moral Chinese way, in a chinese cultural context and this is not a context which defines romantic love as an element in marriage choice” – (page191). However after years of control, and with an anti-arranged marriage campaign that began with the ‘New cultural movement’, came an increasing public demand for own-choice marriage partnerships and ‘free love’.

During the peak of the May Fourth era, at a time when the ‘New cultural movement’ was operating, this marked a significant turning point during which the traditional method of arranged marriage was to be completely threatened and overpowered by the Western ideas of free-choices and was supposed to be recognised as a more modern foundation for people to follow. However, what this ‘marriage revolution’ brought to the modern Chinese society, was not only unprecedented freedom, finally being able to choose a partner for themselves and an extraordinary sense of romance and love, but it also brought with it, confusion, worry and disturbance.

With an ever fast-growing market in China and recent decrease in numbers of marriage, the overall objective of this research is to allow us to develop a better understanding into the ideas set out by the Chinese communist party and whether arranged marriage was in fact a long term benefit or disadvantage to the current Chinese society of today. It will also provide research into other potential factors affecting this gradual decline in numbers, with elements such as the amount of impact a booming economy and higher education have on the people.

With a long lasting tradition of repressive arranged marriages, and recent reports showing a staggering population of 249million unmarried young adults in urban cities, such as Shanghai, I have broken down clearly, the list of objectives I would like to achieve during this paper:

1)I would like to use this research paper to gain a more in depth understanding about this long lasting tradition in China, where the ideas originated from and the thoughts behind this, what were they trying to achieve?

2) I would like to find out, to what extent does exercising constant restraint on an individual’s marriage freedom affect different sectors of Chinese society today, from small towns to the big cities. How have the old traditions affected the way people behave today towards marriage?

3) I would also like to analyse the affects of one of the world’s fastest growing economies on rate of marriage and whether the decline is generally more prominent in bigger cities.

4) And finally gain any other insight as to other factors that could possibly be involved in the decreasing numbers of marriage, such as increase and improvement of a higher education and whether high gender imbalance means high marriage imbalance.

The suggested research will consist of two main parts: The first stage will be to find and gather as many secondary resources to evaluate and uncover past and present marriage figures and any other useful graphs, diagrams, surveys journals and scholarly articles to find any indication of trends between other factors which may play an apparent part in the decline of marriage in China.

The second stage will involve qualitative research to provide an in-depth, more personal outlook on possible underlying problems why this may be happening, and perhaps even gather other personal reasons from outside sources, that I have not yet come across myself, as to the pressures of marriage and why so many Chinese people in society today feel the need to marry a lot later in life, if at all. This will be done through interviews and group discussion with men and women raised both in the countryside and big cities.

Although not a definite decision for my research, it would be interesting to conduct my own survey with a target audience of both men and women born in different eras in China, to see if i can identify any correlation between age, place of birth, education and jobs. By the end of this research project I hope to achieve all my objectives which I have laid out above.

Available documents from the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) declare that China has a serious imbalance of gender, with ‘about 26.7 men per 24.9 women, which has led to a similarly serious imbalance in the unmarried population for Chinese born in the seventies, eighties and nineties.

The worst affected by the gender imbalance are Chinese born in the seventies, where there are currently 206 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women. Those born in the eighties and nineties fare a bit better, although prominent imbalances still exists’. Furthermore, as I mentioned previously about marriage rates between the countryside and bigger cities, according to these documents, in ‘more modernised provinces and municipalities like Jiangsu, Shandong, Beijing and Shanghai the number of unmarried men and women are more closely balanced’, leading me to believe that there is, in fact, a connection between job and marriage numbers which I would like to elaborate more on in my paper.

A large amount of work has been conducted already on the issue of the analysis of why both men and women choose to postpone marriage in China. As research shows, later marriages in China have become a growing social trend, with Chinese men postponing marriage on average by about 1.4 years and women 1.5. China’s 2000 national census reported that the average marriage age of a male in China was 25.3 years old and 23.4 for women. However, the 2010 national census reported that these averages had in fact increased to 26.7 for men and 24.9 for women. Providing evidence a definite


At a time where many Chinese people are driven to get promotions and are coming of age at a time where exploding wealth and expectations for material success are high, I was interested to see that a survey last year on, claimed that 73% of corespondents said home ownership was a ‘necessity’ for marriage today, with an almost equal percentage saying they found it difficult to even buy a house, this therefore leads me to believe more so that pressures of expectations from future partners is so high, many people are put off from this.