The Role of Matchmaking in Chinese Culture, Essay Example
In various cultures, the diversity of human behaviors is conditioned by different socio-cultural norms and requirements of behavior. In this regard, various institutions like marriage and family are treated in different ways and have different driving forces. In the case of the Chinese culture, its traditionalist Confucian values are entwined with political framework of communism and consequent stratification of the society. In this regard, socio-political status becomes one of the primary driving forces in the Chinese culture and consequent behavior. Such a crucial socio-cultural institute as marriage is not an exception. In the present China marriage is no longer about love or one’s heart desire, it is result of consumer capitalism, according to which economic success as a means of socio-political advancement is the core of marriage.
The aim of this paper is to explore the tradition of matchmaking in China in its historical and contemporary perspectives. In this regard, the origin and traditional reason for matchmaking are given. Then, the change of this tradition according to the contemporary requirements is outlined. The main issues and their potential solutions are given. The perception of this tradition in the Western culture is also mentioned.
The essence of matchmaking is that parents use the help of a mediator or a third party known as matchmaker in order to bring to find a suitable marriage partner for their child. In this regard, both parents of males and females are using this service. However, recently it became more common for parents of males to use this service. The primary purpose to find partners that would match each other in their class status and creation of wealthier family than their parents. In this regard, a girl might have property, while the young man could have a good education and a profitable job. The second criterion is how each partner looks like. Good-looking young women often prefer good-looking men, however, wealth of the potential husband often can overrule any looks or age difference (Davis and Friedman 67). Unlike before, the final decision is made by a girl of her parents, while before male partners were the ones to decide. This was conditioned by the change of marriage law in 1950 in the context of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and the intention of providing women with more equal rights.
The history of the tradition
The tradition of matchmaking dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), which means matchmaking is one of the most ancient traditions in China. The nature of the matchmaking role was to find two people matching for a functional marriage. In this regard, the functional nature of marriage was in romantic feelings of two people or their overall compatibility. The main nature of matchmaking was to find the best compatibility of two families and so that the marriage of two people could unite the most compatible families for the benefit of the local community or kingdom (Davis and Friedman 45). Thus, the act of marriage and its arrangement through the matchmaking was primarily the fulfillment of family and social duty of two people.
The main function of matchmaker was to find people matching each other’s social and family standards, conduct required rituals according to six marriage etiquettes, supervision and assistance of the young couples in their following of all steps in rituals and socially appropriate behavior, encouraging widowed people to marry again. Furthermore, gradually the post of matchmaker evolved to deal with all aspects of marriage including negotiations between two families and the third interested parties like local kings who wanted to preserve certain parity in the community (Davis and Friedman 37).
Matchmaking was particularly crucial during the feudal era since marriage functioned as a means of politics and strengthening of political and military alliances. Under such conditions, matchmaking was an inevitable tool for keeping the parity in the fragile system of feudalism and assisted in the survivability of the feudal order (Davis and Friedman 54). On the other hand, this practice had many other reasons except but political for its application. Initially, the role of matchmaking belonged to women called Red Mothers, who lived in villages and knew all about local families and how they were related through different generations; they were employed by parents of the local families to find a match for their children.
In terms of the socio-cultural, status is important; what other people think of an individual and his family mattered a lot. A matchmaker was not only bringing two healthy and unrelated people together, but also made sure that their families belonged to the same social class in the local community. The crossing between classes was unlikely since rich families would not relate with poor ones. Thus, matchmaking was also about securing the existing socio-political order in the Ancient Chinese society. From the materialist perspective, this tradition served the purpose of keeping wealth within the family and adding to it through a marriage. Strictly, from an individual perspective, since a girl was to leave her parents’ home for a long time and was meant to stay in her husband’s home, it was essential for her parents to make sure that her potential husband could provide for her on the right level (Davis and Friedman 104). Overall, the function of the matchmaking in the Ancient Chinese society was to preserve its unity through a strong family based on well-calculated marriage.
Contemporary perspectives and existing issues
Nowadays, the practice still prevails in the Chinese society, but it has changed slightly. Just as before, Chinese society remains to be driven by traditional family values yet facilitated into the contemporary context. The matchmaking became even more crucial in the contemporary society for a few reasons. First of all, with the increased population and migration of people from rural to urban areas and abroad, young generation becomes driven by success and working on the right job rather than thinking of making a family first. Secondly, the constant movement makes the traditional links between families more vague and locally-oriented matchmaking does not work as good as it used. These reasons became the source of parental anxiety about the future of their children and the ability to find the right match.
Thirdly, with the opening of Chinese society to the influence of the Western culture in 1990s onwards, the rate of divorces has increased significantly. In 2006, the divorce rate was around 1.4/1000, which is twice bigger than in 1989 (Davis and Friedman 78). Finally, in the contemporary busy environment of competition and survival in urban areas, people simply have no time for personal life and creating a family. Moreover, just as in Japan, there is a business culture of overworking and even tendency of working to death. In this regard, the situation is particularly severe among white collars, daily death toll due to working too much is 1,600 for China (Davis and Friedman 56). Under these conditions, the elder generation of Chinese people is concerned about continuation of their families and happiness of their children. For this reason they referred to the traditional means of matchmaking, since for many of them it was what brought them together (Davis and Friedman 95).
The main issues related to the matchmaking practice include the following considerations. First of all, the marriage is no longer about love and the inter-personal relationship of two people. Unlike in the Western culture, the usual dating, getting romantically involved and then deciding to marry is not that common in the contemporary Chinese practice. The main hazard of artificial and class-oriented matchmaking is that often personal compatibility is not taken into account, and after while a married couple ends up living as strangers united only by concerns of common economic well-being and raising children (Davis and Friedman 41). Although nowadays the practice does not result in numerous divorces their number has still increased. Thus, in a long run, people will become more dissatisfied with what an arranged marriage brings to their lives and decide not to marry at all. Secondly, since, from an early age, young girls begin to think in terms of materialism, the shift of values takes place. In the future, it might no longer be conditioned by family duty and prosperity but rather as a self-centered desire to gain personal material gain. From the cultural perspective, it may result in complete devaluation of the institute of marriage and any socio-cultural attributes it still has (Davis and Friedman 44).
The contemporary attitude to matchmaking in the Chinese society is widely differentiated. From one perspective, the younger generation that considers itself being modernized and advanced does not want to follow old-fashioned practice. In this regard, just as Western teens, Chinese ones begin to be obsessed with romantic love, mutual respect. On the other hand, under the conditions of the contemporary busy life, they have no time to arrange their personal life in the modern way of Western-style dating and romantic love (Davis and Friedman 37). Thus, there is an inconsistency between teenage ideal of love and the adult reality of getting married and conducting socially-functional life as a married individual. Irrespective of the one’s romantic ideals in teen years, the adult reality is more materialistic and matchmaking becomes one the most functional solutions.
While the younger population is driven by success at work and material prosperity, the elders think in terms of tradition and continuation of one’s family. This parental concern prevails in Chinese society and is boosted by the one-child policy and desire for families to find the best match for their children to continue family (Davis and Friedman 43). On the other hand, this traditionalist approach creates another issue – the prevailing sense of concern created a socially-constructed fear of being unmarried before a certain age. In this regard, except for the materialist pressure of getting a good education, profitable job and creating a family, the young generation is also under the pressure of getting married by a certain age or the status of “left-over” would remain over one’s name the entire life.
There are a few reasons marriages became more important today than in the past of China. First of all, it is due to the mobility; in other words, unlike before people no longer live in stable communities like villages or neighborhoods. Therefore, it is difficult to build relationships gradually based on mutual sympathies, having an opportunity to get to know each other. In this regard, unlike the past, there is more of emotional support from the partners in the contemporary marriage. Secondly, the importance of love as a demonstration of respect and mutual emotional affection became a crucial element of an ideal marriage. Furthermore, the happy marriage becomes a cultural ideal of nowadays, which cannot be achieved with the old-fashioned means. This creates the inconsistency between past and present in matchmaking.
Thus, the clash between traditional values and contemporary reality resulted in the social phenomenon of marital judgment and stratification of the society according marriage status. The further outcome of the introduction of left-over status for women who did not marry before 25 and for men who did not marry before 35, created a stimulus for people to marry no matter what and no matter for which reason. It also stimulated beauty competition between women and wealth and success competition among men in order to get married and not receive the status of being a “left-over” (Davis and Friedman 102). The problem with this trend is that it does not help in building a strong family as a cell of strong society. Instead, it creates short-termed marriages that eventually end up with divorces or split-ups. Consequently, in a long-run, the social condemnation of single status and encouragement of marriage have an opposite effect.
Although it may seem strange, but in order to overrule this dysfunctional clash between tradition and modern reality of contemporary life, various parents and young adults return to the tradition of the matchmaking. Since as it was mentioned above matchmaking in its traditional sense cannot work due to the constant movement of people and remain fully-functional only in the rural areas for people who decided to stay in their home towns, the practice of matchmaking had to evolve together with the rest of the society. In this regard, unlike before the means of matchmaking became more digitalized just as any other aspect of the Chinese society. Today, there are certain agencies of matchmakers for the rich people, where the most compatible match will be found based on advanced data analysis of a potential candidacy (Davis and Friedman 49). Except for family wealth, education, beauty features, other criteria include such considerations as genetic analysis and medical history. This type of matchmaking services also includes various stages of introduction and family negotiations about the legal aspect of wealth redistribution. Although it may seem that, from the institutional perspective, matchmaking can be considered to result in strong marriages, there are no official statistics to confirm or refute this claim (Davis and Friedman 52).
On the other hand, matchmaking service for ordinary Chinese people irrespective of their social class, evolved technologically. In this regard, since the Chinese life style changes with new technologies it became difficult for people communicate with one another in person due to the increased tempo of life, the means of matchmaking had to evolve as well. In this regard, one of the most popular and spread form of matchmaking in China now is online matchmaking through websites. Just as social networks and dating websites, users register in order to get in touch with one another and find the best match (Davis and Friedman 112). One of the most popular matching websites is Jiayuan.com, which proved to be the success in the last twelve years widening its user audience to more than hundred million. The primary distinction between matching websites like Jiayuan.com and online dating is that, the purpose of the first one is to find a match for one’s life and for arranging a date or a simple flirt. It is an entirely different culture of online communication than flirting. People treat it seriously, and they expect the same from other users online.
In this regard, it can be argued that the transfer of matchmaking into the digital space is a great example of how an ancient tradition can adapt to the changes of the new technological environment. It does not lose its primary function of bringing people together to create a family, only the means of doing so have changed. Although it is argued that historically matchmaking was conditioned by feudal system of social order and its survival, nowadays, it still remains as means of preserving social order, where a family is a building cell and means of transferring Chinese cultural traditions to the next generation. Thus, the primary purpose remains the same, only the means of its implementation became more contemporary and sophisticated.
It may seem that irrespective of the advancement of technological means of implementation, matchmaking in the contemporary Chinese society misses out one of the crucial reason for marriage, meaning romantic feelings and love. In this regard, it can be argued that without in-person meeting and getting to know each other better or a sparkle, marriage would be an artificial act. In this regard, the main argument in favor of matchmaking is that irrespective of young people’s perception of love and how they meet each other, for their parents, marriage is about materialism. Consequently, in Chinese society the perception of a good marriage remains in its material parity and future economic potential rather than a romantic involvement. Thus also explains why the purpose of matching is not an arrangement of dating, but a life-long partnership. In this regard, one of the reasons for the revival of this tradition is that Western-style dating does not result in marriages as often as it does in the Western countries (Davis and Friedman 26). This is once again largely conditioned by the social perception of dating being a play of young adults rather than mature people.
The impact of dating that does not result in marriage demonstrated to have negative impact on the Chinese society over the last fifteen years. The spreading o dating resulted in the increased number of people that do not want to marry at all. From one perspective, it is an individual decision. From the socio-cultural point of view, under the conditions of a one-child policy, the reluctance of young adults to marry and have children automatically results in the end of one’ family (Davis and Friedman 43). Since Chinese society has always been family-oriented, for parents who gave everything to their children and want nothing but to see grandchildren and continuation of their bloodline, the reluctance of marriage and having children is a tragedy and curse. Consequently, parents’ fears of not having grandchildren and children’s reluctance to marry create tremendous inter-generational conflict in the Chinese society. This conflict is more than just inter-generational misunderstanding, since it also shows the dying of centuries-long traditions and the ability to reserve uniqueness of Chinese culture. Consequently, the return to the traditional matchmaking demonstrates an attempt to recover the connection between two generations but also to preserve tradition at cleats in their minimal shape.
One-child policy problem
Another issue related to matchmaking is connected one-child policy. Since Chinese society was traditionally patriarchal, and a one-child policy favored birth of male children resulting in abandoning or even killing female babies on various occasions through history, contemporary Chinese society is characterized by a significant gender imbalance. In this regard, 118 boys are born for every 100 girls. In a long-term calculation, by the end of 2020 around 24 million men will gain the status of “leftover”, since they will not be able to find a wife. Furthermore, in the timeframe of 2020-2050, it is estimated that 15 % of Chinese will not be able to marry (Davis and Friedman 68). In terms of rural-urban disparity, the situation demonstrates to be worse in the rural areas, since there are instances of men in their forties-fifties being single since they could not find a woman to marry.
In this context, matchmaking is partially an answer to the existing problem. In this regard, the use of this practice in rural areas in its traditional embodiment would result in couples finding each other earlier in their lives instead of staying single for decades. Demographically, it can boost the maturation of new generations and increase the number of girls’ birth. On the other hand, in the urban areas the modernized practice of matchmaking also stimulates people to marry earlier in their lives rather than waiting for the right chance or time (Davis and Friedman 54). Thus, the return of national attention to the practice of matchmaking is conditioned by the vital necessity of people to create their own families and continue traditions of their ancestors. It is also essential for people to find their match because Chinese society remains conservative in its perception of marriage and scrutinizes one’s personal life according to the correspondence of acceptable standard. Matchmaking tradition suits both conservative views and demographic necessities of the contemporary Chinese society.
What this practice tells about Chinese society?
The practice of matchmaking is a significant tradition in Chinese culture. It is related to one of the three core pillars of Chinese culture. It is believed that from Confucian tradition to nowadays, there are three primary events in one’s life – graduation (passing governmental education exam), marriage and birth of a son (Davis and Friedman 78). In this regard, matchmaking and related to it issues demonstrate how the second pillar in one’s life is perceived in China. This tradition and its contemporary revival demonstrate the core values of Chinese society – family values and continuation of one’s bloodline. It also shows that Chinese society is primarily based on strong family relations that prevail to nowadays and remain the center of Chinese social, economic and political aspects of life. In this regard being family-oriented, Chinese people devote every aspect of their life to their children – from giving them the best education to finding contacts to provide them with the best job opportunity and place. In this regard marriage of two people remains as means of uniting capital of two families aimed at the further prosperity of a newly created couple (Davis and Friedman 76).
This suggests that in order to understand Chinese culture, the rationale of family-building in a one-child policy system has to be explored in the context of a traditionalist society that remained closed to the direct impact of the rest of the world. In this regard, any attempts of suggesting new ways of democratizing Chinese social life will face misunderstanding since it is based on strong Eastern conservatism and Confucian values. From the Western perspective, Chinese matchmaking might be viewed as archaic and irrelevant in the contemporary world, but it demonstrates to work for the Chinese society addressing some issues unique for their society, like one-child policy and gender imparity.
Overall, from all mentioned above, it can be concluded that the phenomenon of matchmaking is a very ancient tradition of Chinese culture. Originally, it was aimed at securing social stratification and support of the feudal system of socio-political order. It was also meant for matching people in order to avoid close family marriages. Thus, it aimed at securing healthy offspring and strengthening of the genetic pool. Although, nowadays, the practice has changed slightly and is not practiced everywhere, it has an important function in the contemporary Chinese society. Matchmaking helps busy people to find partners for life using new digital means. Nowadays, the practice is aimed at creating families irrespective of the effects of globalization and constant migration of people. It addresses such issues of Chinese society as severe gender imparity. Although this tradition might seem archaic, it is not a forced marriage; Chinese people just have another option to find a lifetime partner.
Davis, D. and Friedman S. Wives, Husbands, and Lover: Marriage and Sexuality in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Urban China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 2014. Print.
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