Mister Li has really spruced up today. Shirt and trousers are neatly ironed, the shoes are shiny and his hair resembles a perfect maoistic replica. His jacket casually resides on his shoulder. It doesn’t fit right now – a large pile of fresh 100RMB bills provides his wallet with a considerable belly which would make wearing the jacket look rather awkward. But the precious stuffing is of great importance. Because today Mister Li has a date.
And a date in China is paid for by the man. There’s no political correct fiddling with the bill. Who was drinking more wine, but had less 18 on the 23 and who had the sweeter tooth during desert? You can never really split a bill in half, and so East of Berlin nobody even tries. The man very manly proves his strength. He picks the restaurant, after that the food and eventually also the bills from his wallet.
Madam Wonderful on the other hand is expected to be styled-up to covergirl standard. Her job is to flirtatiously but in a slightly shy way wave her long eye lashes at the person on the other side of the table. And she’s expected to be in awe to anything Mister Li acquaints. Very clear areas of accountability. That’s not too bad after all.
Only, Mister Li doesn’t really know WHO he is about to spend the evening with. Short, tall, thin, clever, funny oder fond of tiny handbag doggies? He doesn’t have the slightest clue and his wondering mind puts more and more wrinkles on his forehead as the evening comes closer and closer.
Europeans who go on a blind date are considered rather daring. And while this very direct kind of thing is usually arranged for via web or through any other classifieds, the majority of the blind dates are actually done in disguise. Beth and Andrew might think for instance that Michelle and Steve could work out quite well together. And so they will do their hidden magic: “We’re going for dinner on Friday. Wanna join? Great. Oh, by the way, there’s also going to be one of Andy’s colleagues. I don’t know him, but he’s supposed to be rather fun to be around, so it should be alright. And it’s all very casual, we just want to have a nice time out.”
Well, but sure! Michelle and Steve anyway will chat around over pasta and have heaps of easy fun, because they don’t even know they have just been blind-dated.
When Mister Li and Miss Wonderful meet up, they will similarly not be the ones who have arranged for it. They will know however, that it’s a date and they’re even going to be all by themselves. And they definitely will go. They have no choice.
So, while these two strangers are making their polite hellos in the restaurant of choice, we will leave the scene for a moment. Let’s go and take a look at how this actually came about. And for that we need to turn back the clock a whole week.
Mother Li is getting out of the cab. It’s a sunny Sunday morning, the air smells like success. She resolutely closes the cab door and turns toward the Yuyuantan park in front of her. She loses no time, knows exactly where she wants to go and elegantly bypasses any obstacles and sights on the way.
It’s perfect timing as she reaches the cattle market. The choice is substantial, the competition sparse. Mother Li opens her handbag to grab hold of a pile of paper – documents and photos. Today it’s going to work out wonderfully. She can feel that. One last deep breath and off she goes with the astuteness of a hunter. She approaches a pack of chattering women and throws a cheerful “Good morning, ladies”.
The game begins.
For the next hours mother Li and all the other mommies and daddies are going to be busy bees, exchanging lots of information. “My daughter is stunningly beautiful!” “My son has a house!” “Mine does too AND he has a car!” “Does your daughter cook well?” “Sure, at least 30 dishes. And she’s really good at sowing.” “What are her school grades like?” “Can you show me some bank statements of your son?” “Tell me something about your family’s history”…
This is future in the making. It’s a mercyless business. And it’s one that bears a high numerus clausus.
The Chinese, as we all know, believe in lots of superstitions and they have legends for just about anything. At the time of the Tang dynastiy for instance there was a god who was responsible for the love between man and woman. Yue Lao, the “old man in the moon” possessed the book of fate. Written in it were all the people’s marriages. Furthermore he owned a red strand. It was said that once he tied two people together with it, they were bound to fall in love. regardless of how much sympathy they had for one another beforehand.
We don’t know whether the most beloved hobbyhorse of the Chinese, the matchmaking, started back then. But this hobby does belong to them the way baguette bread belongs to the French.
Today, however, Yue Lao is not needed. Mother Li has already gathered 5 promising telephone numbers.
Having done one hour of negotiations, this is quite normal for her. After all, she represents a son and that makes the game a slight bit more easy. Almost 90% of the tendering community is offering daughters. Mother Li is used to having the choice. But still it’s a kind of an art. It is considered impolite to refuse an offer for a date and so mother Li has to go upon it in a very tactical way. Don’t reveal too much information to soon. The daughter mob is lairy. Rapidly and unconsiderate is it lusting for contact.
Matchmaking is all that counts. The clock is a-ticking. Those whose female offsprings have passed 25 years of age look as relaxed as a trout in the desert. After 28 they are considered old. The daughters that is, not the trouts.
Furthermore, the grandchildren need to see the light of day before the lovely daughter turns 30. Anything later than that sheds an aweful light on the family and makes for some losing-face situation. Nobody wants neighbors and friends to think something’s fishy with their young ones…
And make no mistake – when a date gets arranged for on this market, it has a sole purpose: the two candidates are expected to decide for marriage no later than between main course and dessert. So that’s why mother Li is being very serious about the whole thing. Serious and, well, motherly.
She even has a trick that keeps any obstrusive candidates at distance. She invents alternative realities. Something that works really well is the story of her son being divorced and looking for a second wife. That usually does the job. The market doesn’t like return items.
Luckily she has the possibility of doing so. Men don’t have a best-before-date on this market. For them there merely is a financial hurdle. And you’re all safe should your collective possessions make you pass this one.
Mister Li is very safe. Not only does he have a decent job, he also owns an appartment. That’s why he already outlived several motherly procured dates and still keeps both feet on the ground instead of hectically putting down one knee in a rush.
Besides him, every week in China there are countless other daughters and sons who find themselves confronted with dating schedules they didn’t see coming. It’s pure stress. Even worse, at the end of the night there’s always the debriefing with the parents who want to know whether they can finally call the banns. And that is pure pressure. So every meet with every candidate becomes a test. If you don’t immediately hear violins play or see angels dance, your fear of being difficult to place just keeps growing another bit.
But do you really have to use mediators to meet the love of your life? The uncountable number of agencies for just that matter speaks for itself. Sure, the Europeans have them too, but on this side of the planet they are much more realistic. And that can be quite uncomfy. In Europe people like to pretend they care about nothing but the moral courage and the philosophical world views of other people. But in China facts are what matters. You might not even be accepted to an online platform for instance, should you choose to keep your salary a secret. You even find platforms which won’t accept anyone below a certain level of financial strength.
Should you strive to know about the reasons behind all this matchmaking action, you just need to ask mother Li: “Our kids don’t have enough time. They work too much and much too long. Their friend circle is either far away or comprise only colleagues. How on Earth are they supposed to meet somebody new?”
The logic is ravishing. And even the very individual and enlightened European has to admit that this problem isn’t anything unusual. The means may differ, but the goal is the same. And the Chinese don’t have the Westeners’ possibilities of running into someone in a bar or a club. Those establishments are still considered slightly shady amoungst a surprisingly large group of Chinese people, regardless of age. It’s an ancient misbelief, which (no longer) bears any truth.
The remaining choices are office and friends. Or one of the previously mentioned agencies and mom and dad.
Luckily the Chinese method is with quite some success. Lots of parents have sufficient time at their disposal to go out and hunt. And they have no fear of contact. Besides: Who else would know their kids this well? And that’s the best prerequisite for matchmaking. Whether the kids like it or not.
Mister Li really had fun tonight. It’s not always likt that, so he really is upbeat. He sends the young lady off in a cab and watches the car disappear in the traffic. A smile runs around his face. It really was nice. Mister Li would love to see her again. Best tomorrow. But unfortunately that’s not possible. Tomorrow is Saturday and as usual mother Li has appointed two new dates to attend.
Mister Li sighs and calls a taxi to take him home. It really isn’t easy being single in Beijing.