China’s Peculiar Classified Ads

China’s city parks ripple with activity. Friends gather around stone tables to play mahjong, lawns fill with slow-moving octogenarians practicing tai chi, lively dancers spin in giant circles. The energy is frenzied and chaotic and completely intoxicating.

But not all is fun and games. No, the Chinese are far too pragmatic for that. They enjoy the present always with a careful eye on the future.

And so they advertise their unwed, adult children.

Picture of signs advertising unwed children in a park in Chengdu, China

Advertisements in Chengdu

Scores of handwritten signs, pleading for a spouse for a child, litter public gathering places. A child’s best qualities are advertised–sometimes this means salary, sometimes a list of a child’s personality traits and desires, sometimes a more-thorough background on the family itself.

More often than not, the children are male. As China struggles with a society that has historically undervalued daughters, the disparity between the number of eligible men and that of eligible women is growing. More and more men are reaching their 30s and beyond never having married, and not by choice.

But women, too, are under pressure to find a mate. The most-educated women are, perhaps surprisingly, the least likely to marry. Again, this is not by choice. Rather, it is the result of these women taking time for education and inadvertently “aging out” of desirability.

It is rare that these highly educated women will find a husband if they have not yet done so by the time they reach 27. At this point they are the “leftover women”–women too old to be desirable mates. Their only hope is to marry someone far beneath them, socially speaking, and even then their pronounced age is a strike against them.

And so parents take to the city parks in a desperate bid to save their children–and their family’s honor–from these troubling marriage statistics.

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