When the topic of finding love in Shanghai comes up, it’s hard not to mention the famous Matchmaking Corner in People’s Park, a must-visit dating spot that has become an iconic part of the city’s culture.
About ten years ago, friends who liked playing matchmaker as a hobby got together, swapped photos, and started arranging dates for their friends. Many parents brought their children’s information to find a good match, whether or not their children were aware of the process.
A decade later, the Shanghai Matchmaking Corner is THE weekend attraction at this park, and it even has a name. When my husband and I were in Shanghai not too long ago, we decided to stop by and look. Since I had a picture of my two daughters in my wallet, it would make for an unusual and interesting tale.
The location is relatively easy to find. This location is just outside of the People’s Square subway station’s Exit 11 (via subway Lines 1, 2 & 8). People, signs, and umbrellas with arms spread out greeted us as soon as we entered the park.
It was shocking to see for the first time. This made me think back to the days (before China’s liberation) when starvation and illness forced some low-income families to sell off a child to make ends meet. Of course, things are very different now, but it’s still strange to see so many parents arranging marriages for their kids in what looks like a flea market. Many, however, come for the atmosphere and the excitement of the hunt and have done so for years, passing each other in the halls with a quick nod and a wan smile.
The park’s “exhibit” is divided into sections for Shanghai natives, New Shanghainese (after 5 years of living and working in Shanghai, you are offered a residence permit, known as Hukou), people from all other provinces, and international “applicants” from countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Hong Kong.
There are many other parks in Shanghai where smaller matchmaking events take place, but Renmin Park is where everyone goes to be seen. Despite the park’s sign stating that it is for everyone’s enjoyment and not a place for matchmaking, every weekend, hundreds of people, including mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles, come here with their folding chairs, tri-fold umbrellas, and laminated signs in the hopes of meeting their future in-laws.
The success rate of matchmaking has dropped to 1% in recent years, according to one mother, who may be the fastest talker I’ve ever met (truthfully, she did most of the talking, as I couldn’t get two words in). But I appreciated her optimistic outlook: if you’re in the top 1%, your chances of success are 100 percent. Despite some holes in the logic, it’s a decent spur to action. After thirty minutes of listening to her speak rapidly, I learned the scoop from an insider’s point of view.
Marriage “resumes” typically include the following information: gender, age, height, weight, education, occupation, salary, and contact information. Those with housing and/or a car will bold that information to highlight themselves as top candidates. However, none of the individual’s interests, values, preferences, likes, or dislikes are discussed.
The woman I was “speaking” with expressed her distaste for how materialistic most people are. From what I learned, she was supporting her thirty-year-old son. Her son is a manager at a Shanghai real estate agency and has a mortgage on the apartment he owns (minus 10 points for that).
It’s funny because, at first, she refused to show me a picture of her son, and I had to convince her that I have two daughters roughly the same age as her son before she finally agreed. After witnessing this matchmaking circus, I had no desire to play matchmaker, so I wasn’t exactly being dishonest when I said that (not that I ever have, much to their liking).
The quick-witted woman explained a few things about pictures, too. In today’s world, where everyone has a smartphone and can “PP” their pictures to make them look better than they are, what you see may not be what you get. Crazy!
I also learned that photographs, which seemed like a natural addition to the marriage “resumes,” are discouraged and frowned upon. To the surprise of no one, most children have no idea that their parents “visit” People’s Park. Imagine if your crazy mom showed up in a park waving a picture of you like a banner? For the sake of my story, I did my best to record the setting, including some unprotected “resumes” for potential spouses.
While most attendees and vendors are parents, I noticed a guy in his early 30s affixing a personal sign. On his sign, he claimed to have recently moved to Shanghai from the United States after attending a university in the latter country and to have two homes, one in Los Angeles and one in Hawaii. He was tall and trim and seemed attractive enough, but he was getting almost no attention. Perhaps his parents’ apparent material success was too good to be true to the cynical Chinese immigrants who have seen it all.
In sum, the whole thing was very enlightening. Also, this last resort is always available in People’s Park if you have a son or daughter who is currently unattached.