The next few weeks will mark the height of the wedding season in China, and singles and their parents in China will be feeling the pressure as large family gatherings act as a constant reminder that time is running out.
Pressure to get married is something felt by the majority of Chinese adults, in a survey by state media Xinhua, 85% of Chinese people in their 20s had been pushed by older relatives to get married. Some parents have decided they can no longer wait for their children to find a match on their own and have taken things into their own hands.
Enter the Marriage Market…
The People’s Park in Shanghai hosts the most iconic marriage market in China, which has been open every weekend, noon till 5pm for the last 20 years. For Beijingers, there is a marriage market in Zhongshan Park, walking distance from the Forbidden City and in Chengdu, their local People’s Park provides an almost identical offering to Chengdu parents. One other thing most of these marriage markets have in common is that most of the offspring being advertised have no idea what their parents are up to on the weekends.
Parents who want to advertise at the marriage market bring washing lines, trolleys and umbrellas to use as stalls and stands for their often handwritten posters. Some parents even pay for marriage brokers to display adverts long term and collect and distribute phone numbers between desirable matches.
Marriage markets in China are often likened to house hunting, “bachelors are like bank cards, and bachelorettes are like properties”.
When choosing potential suitors parents will make decisions based on several deciding factors:
1. Their age. In China, parents tend to look for an age gap of no more than three or four years and in particular, it is believed that women should be younger than men when matchmaking and almost definitely no older than 28.
2. Their residency permit or 户口 (Hukou): especially in Shanghai or Beijing having a local Hukou opens a lot of doors in terms of medical care and education, so for parents native to Shanghai or Beijing, it is a key factor in their decision.
3. The ‘Child’s’ yearly income and financial assets. This is particularly important for men who are traditionally expected to provide a house for the couple to live in. In many markets, the ranking is decided not only by whether or not a suitor owns their own property and car but also where in the city the property is based and the size in square meters.
4. Level of education and standing of University. Parents try to match equal educational backgrounds (by university ranking and level of degree) but often they will accept female prospects with a lower level of education, but not a higher one (which has been a harsh truth for many women with PhDs).
5. Looks and personality. Looks are often less important for men (though height is a non-negotiable factor) for women many adverts talk about their figure (slender and not taller than 170cm preferred) , facial features (double eyelids, high bridged nose and small ‘seed shaped’ face preferred) as well as skin tone ( fair skin preferred).
In a modern age where young adults arguably have more freedom than ever to choose their partners, and ample help from apps like Tantan and Momo (China’s answer to Tinder), why do parents feel the need to take matters into their own hands?
China’s Singles Economy
In China, the one-child policy that was introduced in 1979 and strictly implemented until 2015. has longstanding repercussions. As a direct result of traditional Chinese preference for male offspring, gender imbalance in some regions of China is as high as 118 men for every 100 women. The University of Kent predicts that by the year 2020, 24 million men in China will be unable to find a wife.
However, it is not just a shortage of suitable partners that is having an impact on marriage in China. Economic pressures are creating concern about China’s millennials as there are currently 200 million singles in China. The average graduate salary has dropped by 16% as China’s job market slows down and competition intensifies. According to China’s leading Jobhunting website Zhaopin. com, early half of 2017 graduates earned less than 6,000 yuan per month, with 70 percent of respondents saying their current wage is ‘far below; their expectations. To make matters worse property prices in Chinese cities have continued to soar, with an average two-bedroom home in Beijing costing 6 million yuan and the average monthly rent costing around 3,000 yuan.
Traditionally, parents see marriage and childrearing as a way to ensure social and financial security for their offspring, yet as divorce numbers continue to rise (in 2017 alone there were over 1.4 million divorces in China, with the majority of divorces occurring between 2 and 7 years of marriage). As such the view of marriage as a lifelong support system is fading among millennial audiences.
When discussing marriage and love in China, 剩女 (Shengnv) or leftover women is one of the most contested social trends, followed closely by consumers and academics alike.
A ‘leftover woman’ is a single woman who is aged 28 or over and thus is no longer considered a desirable marriage partner. Parents and older relatives will often pressure young women into marrying early to avoid becoming leftover. Traditional views about marital age have also been used to discourage women from pursuing careers or further education (especially above master’s degree level).
In spite of overwhelming social pressures, some modern Chinese women are opting to delay or forego marriage in order to enjoy their own ambitions, championed by a select number of brands campaigning a change in social expectations.
Brands Showing Support for Singles in China
The most iconic brand to campaign for single women is SK-II. In 2015 they ‘took over’ Shanghai’s marriage market, challenging parents to respect the wishes of their single daughters。 Chinese women liked the advertisement so much that sales of SK-II products increased by 50% percent in the eight months from June 2016 through to February 2017, Bloomberg reported.
Following the success in the singles market SK-II have launched a number of follow-on campaigns, #INeverExpire (challenged Chinese norms of valuing women based on their age) and #Changedestiny’ in response to the Global Dream Index Survey, which found Asian women were almost twice as likely as Western women to give up on their dreams and be unsatisfied with their lives.
For brands not wanting to tackle social issues head-on, recent trends show that portraying women as powerful and successful in brand messaging and campaigns can go along way to engaging with Chinese audiences.
The Chinese Wedding Economy
Single life may a trendy topic in China, but the wedding industry in China shows no signs of slowing down. The Chinese wedding industry is valued at more than £100 billion a year, with affluent Chinese couples chasing exotic and extravagant ceremonies, designer gowns and overseas pre-wedding photoshoots.
Western-style wedding proposals are also becoming more popular thanks to celebrity engagements and their coverage on social media
More than 10 million couples a year are on the market for engagement and wedding jewellery, with HKTDC estimating that around 50% of all Chinese jewellery sales are wedding related.
Key trends of China’s Wedding Industry: Fantasy, Luxury, and Multiculturalism
Personalisation and customization are key when it comes to impressing China’s internationalized and well-educated millennial couples, with bespoke diamond rings the leading choice for 75% of consumers under 40.
Likewise, made-to-order designer wedding attire and personalized gifts for participants are growing in popularity. One key part of any Chinese wedding is the pre-ceremony photo shoot. These photoshoots usually portray the couple in a range of styles including but not limited to traditional Chinese and Western-style wedding dress, usually set against studio backdrops of foreign cities or fantasy landscapes.
However, keen to set themselves apart from their peers’ affluent young couples are now traveling abroad to take photos in front of iconic scenes. British or European photoshoots can last between one and three days and cost between £2000 and £12,000.
It’s not only the pre-wedding market heading abroad, China’s ultrarich are enjoying wedding on Thai beaches and in European castles rather than more traditional style ceremonies in five-star hotels, for couples who can’t decide there is always the option of hosting two or more ceremonies.
Fuelled by the popularity of Brit-pop culture (Sherlock, Downton Abbey), Chinese celebrity weddings (Jay Chou married in Selby Abbey in Yorkshire) and the spectacle of British Royal Weddings, the UK is a firm choice for wedding destination, especially for those who have studied here. This coupled with the new direct flights opening in Edinburgh and London means more British brands and destinations can expect to benefit from an influx of Chinese wedding parties.
Looking to engage Chinese consumers in the UK or at Home?
Whether you are looking to engage with Chinese singles or work magic for Chinese couples, Emerging Communications can help. Please contact us on for more details or sign up for one of our upcoming masterclasses to learn more.
By Marie Tulloch, Inbound Marketing Manager
In market analysis conducted by HSBC, 78% of surveyed western brands planned to grow investment in China.