Like many western concepts, Valentine’s Day has made its way to China. Personally, I’ve never made a song and dance about it but I think it may serve as a good occasion to promote romantic love. The Chinese have become far too practical and commercialized. For many young people, love has become a number game.
A recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Civil Affairs suggests that 92% of polled claim that the basic requirement for marriage is “stable income”. And two-thirds women say they would not fall in love with a man who earns less than 4,000 yuan (US$635) per month.
I guess the Chinese are always fairly practical, as reflected in the personal ads.
Back in the 80’s, before I finally got married at the age of 26, my beloved grandma used to read out personal ads in the newspaper every day, in the hopes that some of the amazing numbers and facts would attract my attention: she desperately wanted me to settle down. Those zhenghui or, soliciting marriage ads, often read like this: certain man, 30 years old, 1.76 meter high, university educated, with a monthly salary of 900 yuan. Looking for a pretty girl aged between 22 to 28 and height above 1.60 meter.
Now, the importance of the number game has increased even more. Last year, for a potential story, I visited the marriage market (call it “love market” would be an insult to love) in central Beijing’s Zhongshan Park where parents meet to find potential partners for their children. The hopeful parents often hold a piece of paper, detailing their children’s conditions and the criteria of the person they are looking for. I was amused to find how they are filled with numbers: the person’s age, heath, salary, the size of the flat they own . . .
But I am not so amused to see how some young girls shamelessly pursue wealth through marriage. Last autumn, in a TV dating show, a 22-year-old model from Beijing named Ma Nuo infamously said: “I’d rather cry in a BMW car than laugh on the backseat of a bicycle,” when she flatly rejected a suitor who didn’t boast a deep pocket. Ma, now nicknamed BMW, has become the post girl for such materialistic girl.
Women of my generation placed much more emphasis on men’s moral and character rather than material side. Conscious of my lack of education, I always went for better educated men, who taught me one or two things. It was little wonder that I fell madly in love with an Oxford student after chancing meeting him inside the Forbidden City in Beijing. He was a student without any income. But we saw the chance for happiness so we went for it. I would describe our early years of married life, though poor in material terms, as the happiest and most enriching time of my life.
Our marriage lasted for 15 years. By modern standard, it’s a success as we were happy for the most part and we both grew within the marriage. The fact that it didn’t last doesn’t make our story less romantic or beautiful.
But is China going through an ear without romance?
Yet we humans need romantic love. It is a powerful force to inspire and fulfill us in a way no amount of money can achieve. Indeed we need romance in general, something rising above the daily mundane life.
The BMW girl is probably too young to know the misery of crying in a fancy car or the poverty of a loveless relationship. And I am not sure how much true love such poeple can give if they love money too much.
I hope the young ladies will pay more attention to make more love instead of making more money. Romantic love may bring some fragrance to reduce the stench of this materialistic society.