Overly concerned parents damage children and society
Published: Jan 02, 2018 06:23 PM

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

I enjoyed my last lunch of 2017 at a wedding banquet held at Park Hotel in downtown Shanghai, during which I presented a hongbao (red envelope stuffed with cash) and my best wishes to two of my colleagues who recently married.

The bride is Shanghainese and the groom a Beijinger. Their storybook romance started years ago in our Shanghai newsroom, where the young man once worked.

The world might be a village, but most people would regard Beijing and Shanghai as totally different worlds. It is even less common to see people from both those cities become married.

The Park Hotel is, ironically, located directly opposite from People's Park, where Shanghai's outdoor dating corner (aka "marriage market") is located. After lunch, I ducked over to the park to check whether any desperate parents were engaged in heated negotiations during the New Year's Day holiday. I was not let down; it was as bustling as ever.

As a journalist, I have often been to this park. Usually I pretend to be an average passerby. I blend into the crowd to watch parents promoting their single adult children as ideal spouses.

Their reactions vary toward different enquirers. Sometimes they are personable, friendly and talkative. Sometimes they are impatient and even rude when they think the other parent's child isn't a good match. It's not surprising to see many people quarreling about issues such as income and education.

Once I brought several young female colleagues from our newspaper to do a live video-streaming report from the park. The majority of parents were suspicious of our motivates and became quite hostile to our queries. They claimed privacy and even tried to physically attack us while driving us out of "their territory." I finally decided to adjust our strategy to interview passersby instead of parents.

Ironically, many of those same parents with single sons had very strong interest in my young colleagues, who are quite attractive and well-educated. They asked if they were single, where they were from, and - most importantly of all - if they have a Shanghai hukou (residence permit).

One parent loudly expressed to my foreign intern that her son can speak English well - which apparently qualified him to be an ideal husband for her.

My colleagues, however, were horrified to imagine what those aggressive, loud and hen-like women would be like as their future mothers-in-law. It also dawned on my colleagues, most who are single and just having fun playing Shanghai's dating field, that marriage is not only a romance between a couple. It's also about social status and making numerous compromises.

This past weekend, upon my arrival at the park, several parents approached me as I casually read the information about their children on their umbrellas. One fashionable woman whispered to me in a Shanghainese dialect, "Hello, do you have a son or a daughter?"

I realized that I was regarded as just another desperate mother (I'm not; my daughter only started senior high school). As I was dressed up for the wedding, they also probably presumed that I was an upper-class person, and thus a high-priority target for their child. In a status-conscious society like Shanghai where outside beauty always supersedes inner-beauty and wisdom, appearance is everything.

Based on this scenario, how foolish and shortsighted China's general public has become when they attach greater importance to looks and money over personality and smarts. How will they ever find a true soul mate for their child if their questions are only about income and material possessions? And even if those parents at the park do find a spouse for their single child, how can we expect their marriage to be a happy one?

I have to say that the possibility is slim. And this will not only affect the lives of those unhappy couples, but also Chinese society as a whole, which continues to suffer from rising divorce rates, spoiled children, selfishness and materialism. So, to all those parents at the park, from one mother to another, I say get up and go find yourselves another hobby to kill time with, because you are not doing anyone any good there.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.