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Home  /  Inside China  /  The social pressure that kills romance
The social pressure that kills romance print version
In China, the quest for stability and parent approval when choosing a spouse sneaks in much earlier dating stages than it does in the West. Are such pressures significantly more intense in China or are they universal factors that simply arise earlier in China, as a part of a realistic approach?

One of the classes of a course called 'the art of communication' 沟通艺术 goutong yishu, held in the psychological center of Shandong University focused on dating. The teacher, a well-known psychologist and an expert of student problems, invited the students to simulate a scenario of a first date. As a foreign guest, I was very surprised to see that this simulation lacked all sense of romance, fun and flirtation and strictly about 'business'; where do you plan to live? What is your salary? What kind of wife/husband are you looking for? In addition to the question asked, the 'dating' students also expressed the voice of their parents which was echoing in their heads, looking for a spouse who they could appreciate.

This doesn't mean that first dates in China are always so serious. The teacher expressed 'heavy' ideas to emphasize pressures students may experience and see how they deal with them. Young adults (we are talking here mainly about Chinese in their 20's) may, in fact, date a few months before talking about long term aims, still, since the first steps of the relationship the social and family pressures are taken into account.

Parent influence on spouse-selection is something acceptable in most Chinese urbanities, where traditional matchmaking are perhaps left behind, but parents' opinion is still crucial. Furthermore, most women and men would actually prefer a spouse who respects one's parents and listens to their advice, as filial piety (孝 xiao) is a value that shows a lot about a person, as it is perceived in China (a man that is strongly attached to his parents is hardly a 'turn off' as it could be for women in the West).

Such parental pressures don't always contradict the concept of love, and parents may enjoy the fact that their loved child is embraced by the affection of a romantic spouse. Still, financial base, serious intentions, career and above all future prospect, are all points that Chinese parents emphasize, just in case the child is too blind by love and disregards such crucial factors.

The questions why dates are often taken seriously and few relationships are seen as pure childish fun compared to the situation in many other countries is beyond my focus here. Here I emphasize the fact that when serious intentions are present, couples don't wait long before examining the quality of husband or wife their spouse could become. Is the perception that romance dies after marriage (婚姻是爱情的坟墓hunyin shi aiqing de fenmu - 'marriage is the grave of love') leading Chinese to conclude that love won't last forever, so they better settle for a good responsible spouse? Or perhaps the ability to preserve romance over a long-distance is also a point which is examined in the early dating stages?

Although Western views on this matter aren't homogenous, generally speaking it is clear that in the West individual satisfaction and pleasure occupy a high priority when dating. In China on the other hand, with the traditional family values and modern economic instabilities it is no wonder that external pressures play such an important role.

It is also intriguing to compare the timing during a relationship when such pressures become intense in China and the West. Even in most liberal countries, it is naïve to ignore the power parents have over children (even if it is more a matter of psychology than traditional social norms), the desire to find a financially stable husband (or wife) and the opinions of friends and relatives. But overall an ethos of love, the belief that love is after all the best foundation for a successful marriage makes Western youth more romantic and individualistic when dating. 

Back in China, romance is penetrating and becoming a stronger value than before, but the single-child family format and other socioeconomic obstacles also make parents and children more 'realistic', not wanting to take a risk that could undermine important Chinese values, as well as future stability. Love is more the bonus and less the foundation, though some Chinese would say that without such foundation love cannot survive in the long run.   

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