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October 30, 2008

Would You Let Your Mother Set You Up?

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Imagine your mother was so desperate to find you a husband that she spent every Sunday perched on a bench in a busy park with a poster declaring: "Unmarried woman, 39 years old, 5'3", works for a foreign company. Looking for a responsible, healthy man." Well, that's exactly what Mrs. Chao does for her daughter in Beijing's Zhongshan Park. Embarrassing, right?

Welcome to Hunli Shichang (translation: Marriage Market), the first bazaar of its kind in a nation where the average marriage age has jumped from the early 20s to 27 for women and 28 for men, as more young adults focus on building careers over families. At 11 a.m. each Sunday and Wednesday, worried parents crowd the park's benches, clutching what amount to personal ads for their children. "Our children work, work, work, and time runs down the river," sighs Mrs. Chao, who declined to give her first name. "I spend five hours here each week — six if there are parents of boys my daughter's age and education level."

The market was set up in 2006 by two mothers, Mrs. Lin and Mrs. Tang, who exercised at Zhongshan every morning. Since then, five more sites have sprouted across Beijing, with offshoots in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

But does it work? "There are some successes here, and there have certainly been weddings," says Mrs. Chao, who admits that the whole thing is a little "weird." Of course, "in the West you look for husbands in newspapers," she points out, "which shocks us." Touché.

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