A bride gets ready to toss her floral bouquet to the single women behind her at her wedding reception in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, on May 12, 2012. Photo: CFP
Throughout the West, it's fairly common for parents to sound a note of caution if their children get married in their early 20s. But while those parents say that a hasty marriage can cause regrets later in life, parents in China push hard for early marriages.
"Chairman Mao once said 'courtship without marriage is hooliganism,' so I asked my boyfriend if he was a hooligan. He said 'No,' then I suggested we should get married," 22-year-old Gu Rui, an intern at a bank in Guangdong Province, told the Global Times.
They had that "hooliganism" conversation two years ago when they were still in colleague and too young to reach the minimum age for marriage, generally 20 for women, 22 for men. They waited a year.
There was no engagement ring, no flowers, no bended knee, nothing. The couple who had been together for seven years eventually married in December 2013 on his 22nd birthday.
"The only surprises was when we got the marriage certificate, we were like 'seriously? We are married now?'" she said.
As China's average marriage age constantly rises, well-educated yet single women in their 30s are labeled sheng nü or "leftover women." To escape this fate, many women in their 20s rush into marriage.
Two seniors from Southwest University in Chongqing tie the knot in the campus just before their graduation on May 17, 2012. Photos: CFP
Dependent upon parents
Chinese parents seem to have an "absolute" solution for any issue in the lives of their adult children. Don't like your job? Get married! Thinking about studying abroad? Get married! Seeing someone? Get married!
The constant nagging sometimes pushes young people away from their parents. In January, an unnamed Chinese mother bought a full front-page advertisement in a Chinese-language newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, to beg her son to come home.
"We've called you several times but you did not answer. Maybe you can read our message here," said the letter. "Mom and dad will not force you to get married ever again, please come home for Chinese New Year."
People in their 30s often remain single for a number of reasons. When it is not out of choice, it is often due to a lack of channels to meet suitable people, and the traditional family value that men must be financially stronger than women.
"I spent all my time and energy on work in my late 20s," a "leftover woman" surnamed Zhao told the Global Times. "Career first, marriage second. That is my view."
"It is less likely for career women in their 30s settle down with someone who seems inferior," she continued. "But members of the post-1990s generation (those born after 1990) have more choices."
Different from the post-1980s women who expect a house, a car and good salary before they say "I do," the post-1990 couples who are in love and committed seem to have an open mind: no worries. Let's get married and be happy. This is often called "naked marriage," referring to the lack of major assets.
A survey conducted by Touchmedia last year found the concept of naked marriage has become more and more acceptable among young couples. Around 45 percent of 1.59 million respondents said they can accept a marriage with no house and car. Less than 30 percent said they would be willing to have a naked marriage.
As clichéd as it sounds, many said they have found the "right one." Gu said her main concerns are not about age, but maturity.
"I am glad we've survived the seven-year itch. We thought we were ready to move to the next page," she said.
A survey conducted by sina.com.cn in 2011 found out that over 48 percent of some 2,000 people in their 20s said they do not really know what kind of partner they want and that they will just follow their hearts. Just 30 percent said they believe in marriage and that they will never get divorced. Another 52 percent said they would definitely have children.
But what about money? Many people who get married in their early 20s are not financially independent. Many need to rely on their parents to pay for the wedding, the house and even take care of their children.
Fresh graduate 23-year-old Gao Yue is planning to tie the knot this year with her boyfriend, who owns a coffee shop. Her parents expressed concerns about the young couple's financial situation.
"We don't have much by way of savings but we don't worry about that much," she told the Global Times. "Two people are stronger than one. We will get married and have children early, by the time we are retired, our children will be able to take care of their jobs and marriages," she continued.
Modern arranged marriage
Arranged marriages, also known as blind marriages, were an ancient custom controlled by the parents of the brides and grooms. The couple might not even have the chance to see each other before their wedding day.
But arranged marriage is making a comeback of sorts, said many post-1990s people, because their parents are so involved with the whole process that they do not need to worry about anything.
About 24 percent of some 300 people who got married in their 20s said it was their parents who introduced them to their partner, another 24 percent said their match-makers were relatives, according to a survey conducted by the Zhen'ai dating website last year.
Over 86 percent of their registered members said their parents have tried to arrange marriages for them. And up to 82 percent of women and 96 percent of men said they might accept it.
"Many 20-something people have been relying on their parents their whole lives, so when it comes to marriage, they'd love to have their parents handle it," said psychologist Wei Yingdi from the Shanghai-based Jinguoyuan Psychological Counselling Studio.
"Some might be against the idea at the beginning but eventually compromise because they know their parents have been through all of this, and know what is best for them," she continued.
One of the main reasons that people in their 20s accept modern arranged marriages is because they think "dating wastes a lot of money and energy." And with financial and emotional support from their parents, they can have a safe and stable marriage.
Lu, 25, from Shanghai, experienced a modern arranged marriage two years ago. From the engagement to the marriage certificate to the wedding, all were arranged by his father.
"People are supposed to feel excited about their wedding, but my wife and I did not feel anything," he was quoted by the Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News as saying.
Once the parents were involved, the process became very "effective." One month after the engagement, they were asked to get a marriage certificate. And two months afterward, they were asked to book the wedding venue. The only thing that they arranged by themselves was the honeymoon. But right after that, they were asked to provide a grandchild.
"I feel uncomfortable sometimes but I really appreciate what my father did for us," he said.
By the time the couple had completed these tasks, Lu was already the father of a 2-month old baby. Of course, their parents offered to take care of the baby.
Married early, divorced earlier
Unfortunately for these couples, early marriage often leads to divorce. Many young couples said they do find it hard to deal with the problems without help from their parents.
"We go back to our parents' place whenever we have a fight," said 25-year-old Li who has been married for two years. She said the most effective way to solve the problems is to turn to their parents for help.
But sometimes this isn't enough. Tian Dingding, staff member with the marriage registration office in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, said she had seen many "ridiculous reasons" used among 20-something couples. It could be a dog, a candy or even a condom, according to dahe.cn, a major news portal in Henan.
Lian, 24, from Guangdong Province, put the blame on her mother-in-law for the divorce. Soon after the marriage, she discovered her mother-in-law often showed up at their apartment without invitation. "She thought: 'I am going to my son's place, why do I need an invitation?'" Lian complained.
Her mother-in-law did help the young couple to cook and clean up the place. But soon Lian discovered something was wrong: the condoms went missing.
The couple had a huge fight. Her husband moved out. She eventually filed for divorce.
Often these divorce cases are handled relatively quickly, as the couples involved have no children and not much shared property or debt.
Gao Yiqun contributed to this story