Blossoming Connections: Exploring China’s Marriage Markets

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Soft sunlight filters through the branches of gingko trees, and pastel-hued umbrellas line winding paths, forming the backdrop for one of China’s distinctive traditions — marriage markets.

In the heart of People’s Park in Shanghai, where the largest and most renowned marriage market is held, a lively congregation of eager parents and grandparents gather. Come rain or shine, they convene here with a shared purpose — to exchange information about their unmarried children or grandchildren and to partake in the delicate dance of matchmaking.

Blossoming Connections: Exploring China's Marriage Markets
People’s Park marriage market, Shanghai

But there is a unique element to this event — the eligible individuals themselves are absent. Instead, handwritten posters are pinned to umbrellas and shopping bags or taped to the ground. Like dating profiles without a digital screen, the posters offer information about a potential spouse, along with their specified ideals for a partner. These cover everything from educational background, occupation, height, age and even material assets owned such as a house or a car. Some parents stay close to their display, awaiting the approach of interested parties, while others peruse proactively in search of a match for their loved one.

Marriage Markets - Shanghai People's Park. Photo by Gabrielle Keepfer
Conversations spark connection at the marriage market, photo by Gabrielle Keepfer

The selected locations for the marriage markets, including People’s Park in Shanghai and Zhongshan Park in Beijing, hold significance. These lush parks, brimming with greenery, offer serene settings within bustling cities and serve as central meeting points for families. The open environments reflect a shift from the once discreet and confidential nature of matchmaking to a more transparent and communal practice. These are spaces where families can build relationships, establish a sense of community, and explore potential connections for their children.

Marriage Markets - Shanghai People's Park. Photo by Gabrielle Keepfer
A matchmaker engages with a captivated crowd, photo by Gabrielle Keepfer

Family involvement has been a longstanding aspect of marriage in China and the roots of matchmaking run deep into its history. Professional matchmakers, highly respected and revered for their intimate knowledge of family histories, were entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring stable and harmonious unions. Their criteria for assessing compatibility and selecting a match included factors such as social standing, financial status, and family reputation. Matchmakers also placed importance on astrology, consulting the Chinese zodiac’s twelve-year cycle which allocates an animal sign to people born in each year. It is believed that certain signs are complementary while others are incompatible.

In the marriage markets of today, parents have taken on the role of the matchmaker themselves. The markets reflect a common concern among parents worldwide — the well-being and happiness of their children. When it comes to matters of the heart, parents want the best for their children for the long-term. However, in a digital age, dating apps often prioritize first impressions and appearances, which may not foster lasting relationships. Notably, the posters placed around the park exclude photographs. The focus appears to be on values and shared goals, rather than fleeting impressions. The marriage markets, with their in-person approach, honor tradition and encourage candid conversation.

Marriage Markets - Shanghai People's Park. Photo by Gabrielle Keepfer
A matchmaker carefully writes down information about possible matches, photo by Gabrielle Keepfer

The success of romance made at the markets is unclear, but the evident exchange of information, animated conversations and large crowds in attendance signify that the markets are an effective platform for introductions. The contrast of ancient matchmaking practices set against a modern city skyline illuminates China’s rich history and its adaptability to evolve with the times. In a society balancing tradition and innovation, the marriage markets create a space where potential relationships can blossom, even if just parent-to-parent.

For those looking to experience one of China’s marriage markets themselves:

Shanghai marriage market at People’s Park: noon until early evening on Saturdays and Sundays

Beijing marriage markets at Zhongshan Park and the Temple of Heaven park: daily, mainly in the mornings (weather dependent)

Chengdu marriage market at People’s Park: all day, daily (weather dependent)

By Gabrielle Keepfer