Recently I had the privilege of joining our lovely tour guide, Cici, for one of her tours through Beijing’s Temple of Heaven (see our sister company, UTEC http://chinavisiontour.com/).
As we strolled around the Temple of Heaven Park, I did not expect an encounter with a ‘Meet Market’. I found out later that some Chinese people call it a 相亲会, a gathering of parents of prospective spouses.
“Look over there,” said Cici, pointing to a large crowd of a hundred or more elderly Chinese people mingling among the trees of the Temple of Heaven Park. “What do you think those people are doing over there?”
“They’re discussing something,” replied one of our tour guests.
“What are they discussing?” asked Cici.
Everyone shrugged and glanced at each other for clues.
Cici ended our suspense: “They are trying to find spouses for their children. But their children probably don’t know that their parents are here. It’s so embarrassing!”
As we wandered among the rows of elderly men and women, all sitting silently and hopefully, we glanced down at their hand-written lists. Each piece of paper contained their child’s credentials: their date of birth, home town, weight, education, occupation. Some also included the requirements of their future son or daughter-in-law: not too short, not too tall, not too thin, not too fat, must work for the government, etc. Interestingly, very few parents included a photograph of their son or daughter. Obviously that was less important. I tried not to look too closely in case someone gained false hope. One lady flagged me down and asked if I wanted a boy. Another man shouted out to get my attention, and continued to shout as I quickened my pace.
The air in this market seemed thick with anticipation. This particular generation of Chinese parents gave birth to the ‘Little Emperors’, children born under the one child policy. Now in their thirties, many of them are working too hard or enjoying life too much to want to settle down and start their own families. The desperation of their parents is written on their faces.
In Ancient China the Emperors would travel to the Temple of Heaven to ask the God of Heaven to grant them an abundant harvest. And now, in Modern China, countless parents travel daily to this same Temple of Heaven Park also in search of an abundant harvest: this time a marriage partner for their one child and, ultimately, the continuation of their family line.