Marriage Update: China

“A famous Chinese saying goes, ‘All the land under heaven belongs to the emperor and everyone is his servant.” China has the longest continuous civilization on Earth, so in the Shanghai Museum, for instance, you can see pottery from the 5th century B.C.

Grey pottery jar with incised rope pattern - Songze Culture - 3800-3200 B.C. at the Shanghai Museum

Grey pottery jar with incised rope pattern – Songze Culture – 3800-3200 B.C. at the Shanghai Museum

However, until the 20 century, much of that civilization was based on a feudal system. The Chinese have lived for centuries having to follow what their leaders have said to do.

But now, the Chinese central government is placing a priority on “the rule of law.”   It’s a challenging process in part because of Chinese customs and traditions. Some laws have already benefitted the general population in China.

In 1949, for instance, the Chinese Communists outlawed and stopped the 1,000 year old brutal practice of foot binding.  According to the Wūzhèn Museum, “Starting when the child was five, the girl’s feet were broken at the arch, their toes fractured and folded over toes to heels.  The broken feet were bound tightly so the feet would remain in a tight small shape.  It usually took three years to remold the feet into a shape and size that many males of the time admired” – the “perfect” three-inch lotus foot.   About two billion girls (estimates vary) suffered this fate – but no more.

"The perfect" shoe size"

“The perfect” shoe size”

Photo from:

Another traditional practice that shows how much the Chinese are changing is reported in a Shanghai Daily “ News Feature, “An arduous journey toward the rule of law.” During the feudal society, common people “had no right to choose their spouse. This situation didn’t change until 1950, when the New Marriage Law was enacted as China’s first basic law after liberation. It banned marriage by proxy and stipulated both parties should agree to the marriage.


This couple on a street in Kunming, Yunnan Provence, China are very likely to have had an arranged marriage.  Have they been happy together?

Did they come to love each other?

Did they come to love each other?

Did they just accept their fate?

About 90 percent of marriages were arranged in 1950 and this declined to 10 percent seven years after the law as passed” (15 Nov. 2014, p.10).

That may be true, but arranged marriages are still happening and not just among the poorest people in China. One of our favorite Zhejiang Agricultural and Forestry University students who has graduated and has been doing a LED light business in Dubei just came back to China in October to get married to a girl selected by his parents. He did not seem thrilled. But he feels he owes his parents much, and they wanted to see him settled. So even some successful, educated young Chinese are still entering into arranged marriages.

When the topic came up in one of my oral English classes in China, students had a range of opinions. Some said they would marry for love someone they met; others said they would consider their parents’ suggestion. One 19-year-old student said he would marry whomever his parents selected, “Because I am a good boy.” It’s not likely that anyone raised in the West would say such a thing. If Barry and I selected someone for our son, I’m sure that John would just laugh.

A young couple in Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan Province, China

A young couple in Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan Province, China

There’s much evidence that many young Chinese do not rely on their parents to find them a suitable spouse. According to Hu Min’s, “216 weddings from singles event,” “ More than 200 couples who met through the city’s largest matchmaking event have gone on to tie the knot, according to organizers.

Almost 200,000 singles have attended five massive gatherings since November, 2011, the Shanghai Matchmaking Association said this week” (Shanghai Daily, 15 Nov. 2014, Metro 4).

What will influence these young people in Dali?

What will influence the marriage choice of these young people in Dali?

But another China Daily story notes, “A 30-year-old man in Cangnan county took drugs on Singles’ Day and called police to take him away because he believed that staying in a detention house was preferable to being bothered by his parents about not having a girlfriend. The man’s parents are always telling him to get married soon” (11/13/14 p. 4).

In contrast, I got an e-mail recently from another past English class student, Kris. He says, “ I had a great 4-year college education in ZAFU . . . and I also met my girlfriend in college. She is still enrolled postgraduate. We are going to get married after her graduation.”

Such reports show that times times are changing in China. The “Rule of Law” is likely to bring many benefits and changes to what was once a feudal society.

In the future, what will life be like for this Chinese girl who lives in Dali, Yunnan Province?

In the future, what will life be like for this Chinese girl who lives in Dali, Yunnan Province?

Zaì jiàn, Renée


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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