I’ve been to plenty of meat markets in China. Usually located in the back corner of a dank, smelly building with various animals in different states of butchery. It is usually one of the most unpleasant places to be in China.
But last weekend I went to a different meat market and had a great time. That’s because this market happens every weekend in People’s Square in Shanghai, and the “meat” is children. No! Not a zombie or cannibal market, but a marriage market.
I have always heard about the fabled Shanghai Marriage Market, but had never seen it before. It was everything I hoped and dreamed about. Filled with thousands of flyers advertising potential mates, the market was filled with hundreds and hundreds of middle aged/old parents looking for spouses for their kids.
Call it Match.com for the computer illiterate the entire place was covered, just covered, with ads for kids. Most were hung up and strung in rows along the walls, but there were papers clipped on bushes, taped to the sides of bags and put on walls, even stuck on open umbrellas. I even saw a few parents holding a sheet of paper with their childrens vitals hoping to attract a potential suitor.
The papers list the essentials: age, education, height and hometown. Then it lists what the person (or actually parents) are looking for. Usually a desired height, income and perks such as a house or car or something equally valuable. It seems such an insane (and humiliating) way to find a spouse, but my friend Color assured me that all these kids probably knew their parents were doing this to them, and agreed to it (perhaps reluctantly, but agreed nonetheless).
What I found interesting was there was many people being advertised who were my age. Being unmarried past 30 is basically to accept spinsterhood so I was surprised to see so many people born in the 70’s or 60’s. Thanks to Color’s translating help I learned it was divorcees or widows looking for a new spouse. In those instances they wrote if there were kids involved, and what age they were.
On a sunny Sunday the place was absolutely packed. It seemed like most people were just enjoying the park and hanging out with their buddies but I saw several people talking to others, showing off their kids info sheet and gesturing wildly. There were also people taking pictures and writing down numbers of potential suitors. My (Chinese) friend got a little nervous at one point. “Let’s go,” he said. “That old man just smiled at me and I’m afraid he is going to ask me to meet his daughter.” (Color is very tall, a desired attribute for a potential husband.)
I’m not sure how successful this market really is (I’ve read articles in which parents come for years in vain) but the whole thing was totally worth the visit. If you find yourself in Shanghai during the weekend, head for People’s Square and look for all the older people and papers lining the trees and pathway for a slightly less touristy Chinese experience. And who knows, maybe you’ll find your perfect Mr. or Mrs. Right!