Page 1

conceptions of love

conceptions of love by Fabian WeiĂ&#x;

foreword “China is changing by every day, in every second. So better be not surprised about anything,“ CCTV, the state-owned TV channel opened one of their discussion rounds. Talking about the major changes in China means looking mostly at the development in bigger cities. A quartercentury after China abandoned doctrinaire communism, it‘s not just the country‘s economy that‘s changing more than rapidly. The speed of the society’s development is one of the highest in the world. The gap between the current generation and their parents’ generation is immense. Western influences, a more and more capitalistic lifestyle and increasing urbanization are also transforming attitudes towards love, relationships and marriage in nearly no time. But besides this change, China is still widely influenced by its traditions. During the dynasties, marriages have been seen as a union between two families decided by the parents. Demand for free love has been present since the 20th century, but adopted Western ideas like dating don’t seem to fit into the Chinese society. Finding one‘s better half can be a tricky business in modern China. With hectic work schedules close to 24/7, nagging parents and a growing gender imbalance, it is not easy for the proclaimed 180 million singles to find a match. In addition, China’s fast growing economy not only helped to winkle millions of people out of poverty, but also created new struggles for bringing them together. Real estate prices have sky-rocket in bigger cities. Paying off a place to stay for a family seems to be a lifetime project. This reflects also in a psychological shift towards a growing importance on material values. Especially when looking for potential partners. Dating in modern China is mostly lacking all sense of romance, fun and flirtation and is more about ‘speaking business’. “Where do you plan to live? What is your salary? Do you own an apartment?” are common questions. And not only worried parents stick to these thinking patterns. It is also valid for the younger generation. Many youngsters register for online dating sites and publish their monthly income and housing situation without batting an eyelid.

Asian governments have long taken the view that the superiority of their family life was one of their big advantages over the West. But as more and more Chinese enjoy a rather comfortable lifestyle, pressures of wealth and modernisation upon family-life have been relentless. For Westerners, marriage choices tend to be based on individual notions of love or romance. But walking down the aisle in China is first and foremost about family and community. Parental influence on spouse-choosing is something acceptable in most of urban China, where traditional matchmaking is nowadays left behind. These values don‘t always contradict the modern concepts of love, but a financial base, serious intentions, a successful career and above all future prospect, are all points that Chinese parents emphasize. When it comes to the chances to find a possible partner the numbers seem to favour women in a country where the sex ratio at birth has increasingly skewed toward men since the 1980s. But the country‘s long-held tradition of marriage hypergamy, a practice in which women marry up in terms of income, education and age, means that women getting more and more educated often end up without partners. A higher employment rate makes marriage tougher for them, but it also offers them an alternative. Pursuing a career and a single life may appeal more than the drudgery of a traditional marriage with the associated duties of being a mother. Not only few people are therefore lost in the search for love. Lost in a growing gap between traditional, family-oriented and modern romantic depictions of relationships. Lost in a disharmony between growing acceptance towards different sexual orientations and tight expectations for the family‘s only descendants. A result from the Chinese one-child policy, that shows its real consequences now 32 years after it has has been imposed. But individual solutions for these questions also keep up the speed of change. Young couples without money get together in ‘naked marriages’, where the traditional requests of financial stability and the expenses for any wedding celebrations are left behind. Some gays and lesbians no longer accept their families’ will in getting together with a straight partner but choose to lure them in with ‘fake marriages’ in-between the two homosexual groups to gain personal freedom and coming out is getting more and more easy. Older singles also enjoy the time for themselves without caring about being stigmatized as ‘leftovers’ and premarital sex is getting common sense among the post 90s generation. Conceptions of love vary widely in modern China. And every single concept tells a lot about the nations‘ psyche.

“In one thing I am pretty sure. He has to propose to me in front of many people.�

Ruifang, 27 & Jian, 26

Jian and Ruifang just moved into their own apartment. They are not engaged yet, as proposing to the bride also requires fixing the wedding date with both of their parents. “In one thing I am pretty sure. He has to propose to me in front of many people,” she laughs. The couple met nearly four years ago in their workplace. “It was the 20th of January 2008 when we seriously started our relationship,” they remember exactly. Jian likes that his girlfriend is dependent, “I can make a lot of decisions. I enjoy that. And she enjoys listening to my opinion.” And Ruifang adds, “In my life I need somebody who is more guiding and outgoing than me. I feel save with him. And he is good at cooking,” she laughs. Besides cooking they like to go to the movies or just watch TV. “I like the dating shows. I know that people say bad words about these shows. But I still like it and I can learn a lot from the psychologists who are analysing the people there,” Jian explains. But it wouldn‘t be an option for them to attend one of these shows. For Ruifang and Jiang love has to be based on trust. “We truly have to trust each other. But of course first you have to attract each other. Not only physically, you also have to have something in common,” Ruifang explains. “I agree with you,” her boyfriend acknowledges. “But for me there is more. It is also about being brave and tolerant.” Regarding the tolerance, Ruifang seems to be a pretty good catch. “Before I met him, I would have said cheating,” she answers to the question about her reasons to break up, “But now, I would say I would forgive him, if he still loves me,” she explains and looks expectantly at her boyfriend. “I never broke up in any relation before, so I don‘t have any idea,” Jiang answers, “It was always me who got dumped.”

“I am really enjoying to be just with myself. And I don‘t believe in love.”

Xi, 21

Xi introduces herself by her nickname Vner. She is small, even for Asian relations and looks more like 16 years old rather her actual 21 years. At 9 PM she is returning home from work. It is Sunday. The way to her apartment takes about one hour with subway, train and bicycle. She studied psychology but didn‘t finish. To make money she is now hosting meditations and managing staff at a psychological union. The schedule today included one session of talking gibberish. “One hour everybody should try to talk nonsense without thinking. It helps to access emotions that are normally cut off by the logic of the words and sentences. After that one hour of silence,” she explains. Vner has to work six days a week. Eight to nine hours a day. She works hard to save some money to support her mother one day. But so far it is hardly enough to pay for the rent far out of the centre. Her eyes reflect in a green shimmer as the street lights are passing by. “That is all fake,” she laughs, “I have different contact lenses for each day.” In statistical terms, Xi would be counted to the post 90s generation. The general opinion and media reports are not speaking too good about them. Whenever there is a scandal or sexual excess, it is the post 90s generation that is to blame. Vner describes herself as a bisexual. Right now she has a girlfriend but she has dated also guys in the past. Vner is very open about her sexual orientation. She has been together with her girlfriend Tutu for a little bit more than two months now. “That is my longest relationship so far,” she admits proudly. From her stories and the style of cloths one could easily conclude that she is one of the young party animals. But rather the opposite is the truth. Her room is tidy and cheerful. She lays stress on cleanness. “I used to be far more outgoing than I am now. I am really enjoying to be just with myself. And I don‘t believe in love,” she explains, “I don‘t want to be dependent. I need my own space.” Vner travelled a lot in the past. Her forearm tells not only her self-cut nickname but also about darker days in her life. Right now she seems happy with what she has and what she is. But to please her mother she will probably get married to a guy, she admits. “It is not that hard for me as I am bisexual,” she adds.

Phoebe, 33 “I want to fall in love, get married and do everything for my husband.” Just sometimes, Phoebe feels alone. But mostly she enjoys her single time. She has been alone now for the last six or seven years. “But I feel comfortable the way it is. I have many friends and we often go out to see a movie or to have some dinner together. But when I get sick and have to stay at home for a long time, it is really difficult for me,” she sighs. Phoebe is in the end of her 30s. Her parents push her to find a partner and try to introduce her to some boys. But Phoebe wouldn‘t accept, if her parents would go to one of the marriage markets in the parks. Phoebe thinks her ideal partner should be kind. That is the most important for her. He should also be humorous. Money is not very important for Phoebe as long as he can take care of them. “I think many people don‘t think how to build a good relationship, because they are not worried not to get married at all. They are young and they have time to know many people,” she concludes. Her voice shows that she is worried to find somebody to marry. Somebody to share her passion for tea and travelling.

Singles’ Day A big square in the middle of Raffles City, one of the biggest malls in Beijing, is slowly filling up with people on this early afternoon. A blackboard is filled with little hearts. Green hearts for the boys. Red hearts for the girls. It is Singles‘ Day all over China. People celebrating being single? It is rather about trying not to be single anymore. Not only youngsters are looking for a partner to match on this important day. Many of the hearts identify their respective owners as elders not only by stating their age, but also their income, education level or even their possessions like a car or housing property. Expectations for the future partner are written below. Singles‘ Day or ‘Guang Gun Jie’ was first celebrated during the 1990s at various universities in Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province. But like Valentine’s Day, ‘Guang Gun Jie’ is rapidly commercialised and it is clear that such holidays are mostly happy days for retailers. As leisure time and the income of the middle class in China is growing, every special day can become an inducer of shopping discounts and special offers to give excuses to spend. The organizer of this event is zhenai.com, one of the largest online dating platforms with the pure interest in attracting more members. On the late afternoon baihe.com, another popular online dating platform, is preparing to set up a big stage in front of another mall. Starting from 6 PM there will be a hosted event with little getting-to-know games and other entertainment. BTV, Beijing’s biggest TV station is broadcasting the matchmaking games like finding the matching shoes of possible partners. Most of the people are trying to say goodbye to their single lives on this day. The singles attend ‘blind date’ parties, the engaged ones chose to marry on this day. In 2011, even higher amounts of marriages have been counted throughout China on November 11th than the average daily amount. The Single’s Day of the Century or ‘Shi Ji Guang Gun Jie’ attracted even more people than in any other years before to sign their marriage certificates on Friday.

At night selected guests arrive at the restaurant Li Meng. The place couldn‘t be more remote as it is located in-between small roads and huge office buildings. Nevertheless guests are arriving in numbers and filling the small, western-style restaurant gradually. “I invited a lot of my friends over the Internet, that is how I spread the word,” Hanqi Du, one of the organisers of this private dating event recalls. After getting tagged with a number at the entrance, most of the singles feel a bit uncomfortable and displaced. They cling to their friends or stroll around the buffet. Games like musical chairs or other ice-breaker activities and getting-to-know games are attended timidly and most of the time, people have to be dragged from their chairs to participate. As the music starts, there are slightly more than five people on the dance-floor from the around 50 guests. The business with the love is booming. Modern forms of dating and finding love have overruled traditional matchmaking. Young Chinese enjoy holidays like Singles‘ Day which is also called the Bare Sticks Holiday, referring to the four ones in 11.11. For them it represents something more contemporary that manifests them as modern world citizens. It also reflects Chinese life, which although is still traditional and rural to a large extent, yet urban and modern in many ways. But while China is adapting quickly to these new forms of dating and matchmaking, it seems that the country is still hold captive by traditional ways of behaviour. Women rarely tend to make the first step and men behave clumsily when approaching potential partner by themselves. The overall tonality of the people‘s mood is downcast, “There wasn‘t even a slight chance to talk to somebody!” a woman in her 30s complains. But both men and women enjoy to sit back and wait for their true love rather than actively looking for it. Therefore the model of dating might not be truly suitable for a nation that is considered to act mostly subtle and shy.

Chao, 31 & Barry, 45 Barry and Chao met in Wellington, New Zealand. “We just celebrated our sixth anniversary,” Chao opens. The young guy with the white shirt smiles happily. They met online through NZ Dating. “I was pretty lonely there and my English was pretty poor. The purpose for me going to the Internet was to improve my English and make new friends.” After Chao finished his studies in New Zealand, they both decided that it would be an ideal time to go back to China. Not only because of their standing in life but also because of the attitude of the society. The couple is living in Beijing now for more than half a year. “China is changing by the second and has constantly been criticised without any understanding what is happening to the everyday person. It is far from perfect. But neither is any other country,” Barry explains. “We are told that our society with the laws against discrimination is far more open towards homosexuals than in the East. But the reality is that this is not true. Gays are still bullied and everybody is labelled. Admittedly that is not true for the educated upper-class. But here in China that is not happening at all. Here people are not labelled by their sexuality. Nobody just gives a shit and nobody makes it an issue,” Barry explains, “For me it is far freer here. Here we can be far more tactile as we ever could have been in New Zealand. In the Western everything is sexualized. Here it isn‘t. Chinese culture doesn‘t sexualize people. Girls are holding hands and nobody care. Guys are laying their arms around their shoulders and nobody cares. It is so bloody refreshing.” Barry has been married before and has a 14 year old daughter. He came out when he was 30 years old. “I was turned off by the gay culture in New Zealand. So I got married to my ex-wife Susan. And after we had sex the first time, I felt that I can do that. That I am strong enough to turn my back to my sexual orientation. But it has been always somewhere back in my mind.” Barry had his tricks. Picking fights or staying up late to avoid having sex. But after 13 years of marriage he couldn’t stand the pressure within himself any longer. “When I broke up with her I went back to her and apologized. Because I just took her best years away to find a nice and straight

partner,” he sighs. In his opinion the raising numbers of fake marriages amongst the gays in China aren‘t any better. “To mess with some-one‘s life in that extend is nothing but selfish and arrogant. Nobody has the right to steal the live and love of a person just in order to avoid a strained atmosphere amongst his family. Parents need to be educated. If you decide to move into a fake marriage, it is not only the society who keeps stuck in old role-models, but it is also you to keep stuck with this decision. Your parents might enjoy ten years with their beloved grandson, but then they die. And you and your partner are left with this decision for the rest of your life.” But it is not that easy to decide. “Being the only child in your family, that‘s what‘s the killer here,” Barry admits. “Family union is strong in China. And there is also a legal responsibility to look after your parents. Not societal, but legal. And that‘s what it makes it really hard to make a decision.” Barry and Chao have rented a new apartment in the east of the city. From the 10th floor they have a good view over the city. The tall guy from New Zealand looks out of the spacious window. “We have a spring-autumn relationship. I like to include early autumn,” he laughs. “That certainly was a concern to me and I didn‘t expect that much. But it went amazingly well. And suddenly I realized that I really cared,” Barry explains. They got married in New Zealand. But only for legal reasons as Barry claims. “If I am brain-dead, I want that he is able to decide when to shut off the machines instead of my mother,” Barry clams. Before Chao met Barry, his mother kept telling him, that he has to get married. After she met Barry, she admitted that her son is probably fine with having just him. Chao adds, “But I never sat down with her and told her that I am gay. But I feel comfortable with that and it is not too much for her. With Barry I feel secure and I can be myself. If I feel bad he is supporting and there for me. That is what is love for me.” Barry looks at his partner for a long time and waits before he answers the question himself, “If he wouldn‘t have been so challenging to me, I would have walked away. I am a very controlled person and I didn‘t fall in love many times in my life. Love is not about yourself. Love is about wanting to provide an environment for somebody else where they can flourish.”

Dating Club A red neon sign claims nothing but the name of the club‘s website. ‘Huan le Yuan Singles Club’ is written in big characters. The interior of the venue is also hold in red, as red is seen the colour of happiness and prosperity in China. Tables with two seats are spread amongst one of the rooms. The other one is filled with billiard and table-tennis tables. A piano is located in front of the door to a smaller KTV room, a place for the Chinese national sport of singing karaoke. Passing by plastic flowers that are meant to decorate a hideous wall of personal lockers, there is a big table with plastic coins, pencils and play money. Material for gettingto-know games or other activities to get in touch with the ones everybody is looking for here: attractive singles. The pressure to get married or be left behind has led tens of thousands of single men and women turning to online dating, TV shows, marriage preparation courses and other dating services. TV dating shows like the nation‘s biggest one ‘Fei Cheng Wu Rao’, literally translated to ‘If you don’t mean it leave me alone’ are gaining more and more viewers. Clones from other TV stations all over the country are mushrooming. The business with finding one‘s love is booming everywhere. Crane, a 27 year old enterprise trainer visits the dating club already for three years. Every year he has to pay 2000 Yuan (around 250 Euro) for getting the membership to be allowed there. “I don‘t like it here that much,” he remarks. To the question why he still comes to this place after such a long time he has no real answer. Maybe it is the clinging to the hope that maybe one day there will be the right girl for him. Maybe also a lack of better opportunities. Most of the Chinese girls and women are as shy as the men. Bars are still considered being places for mostly ambiguous characters. Meeting friends means to go shopping, watching a film or going out for dinner. Therefore possibilities to get to know new people are rare. In addition, working hours are comparably long, mostly spreading over six days a week and don’t leave much free time. Clubs like Huan le Yuan Singles Club are one of the only places to look actively for somebody to date besides online dating.

The service is poor. The women behind the desk are mostly occupied by luring in potential members that accidentally mistook the place as a regular bar. There are two branches of the club: one in Haidian and the other in Dongcheng district. The website lists all of the events that are hold every night from 6.30 PM to 9.30 PM. Matchmaker Mutual Association on Mondays. Eight minute speed dating on Thursdays. Dong is a small guy. His hair is well-combed. He is relatively new to the club and paid so far only for three months membership. But there is no end of his single life in sight. “Some girls are OK. Some are not,” he mumbles. To the question why he cannot find a matching partner he isn’t willing to answer clearly. Dong is worried to find a girl. According to his plan to get married by the age of 30, he has still another three years to find his Mrs. Right.

Flower, 29 Flower sits on one of the armrests of a big sofa at the Beijing Lala-Shalong, a meeting place for lesbians. She holds her smart-phone flipping through some wedding pictures. The posing and style of the pictures varies from traditional red costumes to western style settings with sunglasses and leather jackets. But these are not any of her friends’ wedding pictures. They are her own ones. Flower is a lesbian. Even though the Chinese society has yet slightly opened towards the acceptance of gays and lesbians, it is still difficult for them to get along with the stubborn cling to the importance of a traditional opposite-sex marriage. Being a homosexual, there are not many possibilities when they want to comply with their parents demand to get married. The most honest solution for them is just not to tie the knot. But this strategy can be very exhausting, as it takes quite a long time until parents give up the pressure of talking their son or daughter into a marriage. The other solution is to give up one‘s own sexual orientation in order to please the will of their father and mother. But both ways are not pleasing at all. The only solution left for most of the gays and lesbians is therefore to find another homosexual from the opposite sex in order to consummate a fake marriage. Flower doesn’t pay much attention to the book review that is organized this evening at the salon. She is tired of work. But getting married was a “piece of cake” as she recalls. She is officially married to her husband for now more than one year. In real life they just see each other occasionally. “Every time there is some kind of official gathering or dinner I just call him and ask him, ‘Can you play the role again?’” she explains while swiping with her finger through the wedding pictures. Her parents live in Beijing but they never visited them. “They think we live together.” But within the lesbian community fake marriages are still not that common even if the numbers of these fake marriages have growing rapidly. “Most of the lesbians sooner or later get married to a straight guy,” Flower sighs, “or they give up being lesbian at all.”

“Once my grandfather asked a girl to come to our home and I met her. But she wasn‘t right.”

Fei, 24

Fei has attended one of the activities at the Single’s Day, but he didn‘t get any numbers. “Most of the girls are just shy and don‘t come to you,” he sighs. He has also tried online dating before, but doesn‘t put that much trust in it. “If it works? Maybe, yes, I think so,” he murmurs and stares at his mobile phone. He has several times also tried one of the dating bars in town. Without any real success. “My parents keep asking me and give me some pressure to keep looking for a girl.” Fei is 24 years old now. All his friends in his home-town near the Kung Fu Temple in Henan Province have kids now. “But I am not worried,” he insists. His grandfather is always keeping his portrait in the pocket. When he‘s out, he often asks other people if they have some granddaughters for him. “Once my grandfather asked a girl to come to our home and I met her. But she wasn‘t right.” Fei has had two relationships before, one lasted for four years. “The girl I would like to date should not be taller than me. She doesn‘t have to be a beauty queen, just a normal girl. But with a good heart,” he smiles. His room is decorated with posters of actresses and famous female singers. “She should also be good at organising and cleaning. But not necessarily a good cook, because I can cook quite good myself.” Fei also likes his prospective partner to be educated with traditional values like caring for the family and being a good house-keeper. “I have changed a lot since I lived here in the city. When I go back to my hometown to meet some girls, I realise that I have less and less in common with them,” he confesses. Therefore he prefers to stay in Beijing right now. But if there is any good opportunity somewhere else, he wouldn‘t mind moving to a different city. His room is less than 15 square-meters big and he shares it with three other guys. When he wants to spend private time or have sex with a girl he has to rent an room in a hotel. Sex before marriage is becoming more and more common. At the same time many people have to share their apartments due to the exorbitant housing rents. And hotels have adapted to these changing demands. Cheap rooms can be rented for only four hours if needed in most hotels. “Love for me is very simple. Taking care of each other and being tolerant. I just want to be with someone forever and I would love to marry. But my financial situation doesn‘t allow this at the moment,” he murmurs. Even a naked marriage – a marriage without the prerequisites of owning an apartment or a car and even without having a wedding ceremony – would be suitable for him, but therefore he still needs to find the right girl to accept these conditions. But regardless any kind of marriage, for Fei true love is the most important thing.

Parental Screening “We come here because most of us are retired. We don‘t have anything to do. So why not help our children and meet some potential fiancees,” one of the older woman explains, wandering around in Zong Shan Park, a former royal garden lying just south-east of the Forbidden City. There are at least 400 elder people gathering in this remote corner of the park. China has a long tradition of matchmaking and even in the modern Chinese society this type of negotiation still has its place. In discreet corners of many public parks in Beijing, marriage markets thrive four days a week, full of parents who seek suitable partners for their children. Laminated pieces of paper are scattered on the paved ground of the park. If there is no space left on the edges of the paths, some resumes are even pinned on jackets or bags to attract potentially interested parents. The adverts contain basic facts of their sons and daughters, mostly born between 1970 and 1985. Age, height, education and monthly income are on almost every person’s resume and are the key concerns among parents. But sometimes even food preference, Chinese animal sign, birthmarks and blood type matter in their search for a good match. If the requirements of the parents meet and the boys and girls on the pictures look somehow nice, asking questions about their issues of concern is the next step. Some parents insist on finding a daughter-in-law with a degree of a prestigious university. Some care deeply about the candidate’s zodiac sign in order to match the one of their own child. Pictures, mostly years old and taken in one of the family’s holidays, are also proudly shown. If the parents are still satisfied after chatting, they write down contact information for each other.

Back home, the gathered telephone numbers or email addresses are mostly presented as deriving from friends or relatives that “might know somebody matching. ‘Why don’t you give it a try and call?’” Chen is sitting silently on the bench, looking at the crowd passing by. The details of his son are written on a piece of paper that is carefully laminated and lying next to his feet. “My son has a pretty good job in a private computer game company. That is one of the reasons why some of the potentially interested parents are turned off,” he moans. “They want their daughter to marry somebody working in a state-owned company as they are afraid that the private company is just a little start-up. Another reason is that my son is only renting an apartment at the moment. As soon as they see this fact, they turn away uninterested,” he adds looking at the sheet lying in front of him. In the beginning his son was not very happy to see his parents looking for a potential partner at these markets. But as time passes by, he is getting older and slowly appreciating what they are doing for him. Besides he has rarely time to look for women himself. “Three times he met a woman we picked for him, but unfortunately it never worked out,” the man with the friendly and caring eyes wails. Every time there was something disturbing. The first one was a local Beijing girl spending to much time and money for shopping and expensive restaurants. The second one didn‘t have anything in common with him and the third lacked manners. “My son is not too picky, but he has his expectations. The last girl didn‘t even greet us as we met her together with our son. She also had a masters degree. As our son has only a bachelor degree, he could be looked at pityingly,” he explains and continues, “My son is also a very traditional guy. The girls working at his company are mostly too open-minded and for example dye their hair red. My son doesn‘t like that!” It is difficult to find the right match. Traditional expectations and rolemodels limit the number of possible partners. At Zong Shan Park, the parents gather every Thursday and Sunday, but there are at least five other parks where parents can advertise their kids during the whole week. “College degree and above, owning his own apartment. My requirements are quite simple,” one of the strolling women declares. Marriage is still viewed as a necessary step in every adult’s life and parents are often very much engaged in finding mates for their children. Even more, a lot of the singles don‘t know that their parents are advertising them here. “If I am deciding who is good-looking for my son?” Chen grins, “Of course! Not too fat. Not too short and not too tall. Around 175 cm.”

“Of course I have a pressure deep inside. I am not honest to my family and friends. Everything is fake.�

Le, 34

Their website doesn‘t offer only dating for homosexuals. It also provides a little section for a demand that is growing very fast. It is the demand for fake weddings or ‘beautiful lies’ how they are also called. It describes the marriage on paper between a lesbian and a gay in order to conform with the society and to please their parents‘ wish to get their sons and daughters married. They provide them with legal advise and consultation for any questions concerning this issue. Le explains, “There are three kinds of fake marriages. The first one is to just get the legal registration. Another possibility is to get the registration and to have a real wedding ceremony including the wedding pictures. The third solution is to just set up a wedding ceremony with fake registration papers.” Later some of them live together, some stay friends afterwards, some never see each other again. Le chose the second option for himself. A friend from high-school introduced both his fake wife and his current boyfriend to him. He and his boyfriend are together now more than 2 years. “Long-term relationships amongst gays are really rare. I am very happy with our relationship, but it is not what I expected in the beginning. I wanted this kind of heartbeat feeling,” he admits. After a longer pause he adds, “To be totally honest, I don‘t know if I change my mind if I come across that feeling one day.” His fake wife is 30 years old and working in a hospital. “For our parents it seemed to be a pretty good deal, as we both worked in the public sector,” Le carries on. Before working for the website he was a policeman. “Of course I have a pressure deep inside. I am not honest to my family and friends. Everything is fake. Running this kind of marriage is not easy,” he sighs. Yet they are doing pretty well. Their parents question them now why they don‘t move together. His wife lives in another city not far from Beijing. His work is now based in Beijing, so they have a very good excuse not to live together. “My fake wife is very caring and she also loves to have children. So we decided that we want to have a baby in the future. That would help us also to stop all the questions,” he is continuing smilingly. They want to do this by artificial insemination. His wife will then mainly take care of their child, together with her girlfriend. Traditionally the parents also like to take care of their grandchildren. “I know that it is all fake, but I don‘t find any better solution. This is the best I can think of at the moment.” His wife‘s girlfriend will get married in a few months to her own fake husband. “We just do it for our parents and colleagues. But it is a way to protect ourselves. In the underground, we can so still persuade our true love.”

Shuang, 27 & Quingjie, 26 They met during their studies in business management in 2007. After four years of relationship a lot has changed for them. Shuang is now travelling a lot and spends lot of time in other cities and different provinces. “But my company pays for her trip to visit me,” he smiles. In their freetime they go together shopping or to the cinema. Sometimes also go to a KTV bar, the national Chinese sport of karaoke. For Shuang love means to be a part of the other one‘s life, “If I don‘t call her for one day, I feel that something is missing.” Support is another important value for him. Quingjie feels very steady with her boyfriend. She haven‘t had this feeling before with any other guy. Having a relationship for four years without getting married was almost impossible one generation earlier. But Shuang‘s and Quingjie‘s parents are open-minded and don‘t care about that. Everything is fine for them as long as the couple loves each other. Shuang and Quingjie want to get married sooner or later. “We also want to have a child. One at the beginning and another one if we can afford it,” Quinjie explains. “She is very romantic. Sometimes she looses the temper, but that counts for all women, so I don‘t care that much!” Shuang laughs. In return she adds smilingly that he is careless and “totally unromantic”.

Spring, 32 & Betty, 51 The two women met on the Internet. “We talked on the Internet for a long time without even knowing my real name. Love was a feeling for us. We just understood each other. It was simply a feeling of sense. She loves me. No matter my age or my healthy condition,” Betty remarks. She is now already in her 50s. Spring, Betty’s girlfriend is 32 years old. But their age difference is not a problem for them. They know each other for nearly one and a half year now. But until they can finally get together, Spring has to get divorced from her husband. “For her it is a big risk to move to me,” Betty admits, “it is easier for me as I am single and financially stable and without any children. But she leaves her family. She leaves her home-town. She leaves her workplace.” And she even might have to leave her son. Spring has no communication now with her husband. She doesn’t want to tell him the truth about her sexual orientation being a lesbian, because she is also fearing that he will take their child away. And her husband has no time to take care of the child, because he is working all days. “My family now is not a family. It is only a form left. My current relationship is cold. Cold as ice,” Spring wails. She got married to her husband six years ago within a very short time after they first met. “I want to live for true love in the future. I want to get divorced. But this is a hard decision in China. There will be a big storm around me after that.” It has been six years of suffering for her, six years without love. Some believe that love will come after marriage. Eventually. “Marry first. Love will come. Maybe not. God knows,” Betty explains while stroking her arm. But it wasn’t the case in her marriage. “‘If you don‘t love the person, you should change yourself’ is an old saying. The only importance is the age. Commonly the legal age to get married equates with the time people think somebody should get married,” she adds. Spring’s husband was a poor man and he could show that he is somebody by getting married. He was very patient with her. “If I would tell him that I don‘t love him anymore he would probably say ‚oh... ok, no problem‘,” Spring acknowledges. “If Betty dies, I will also stop with my live. If she passes away there is nothing more to live for.” But at the same time Spring is afraid that nobody will be able to look after her own aging parents when she moves away to her girlfriend. Pensions are rare in China and if someone is lucky to get them, they are not sufficient to maintain a living. The children are supposed to look after their parents and support them also financially. Regarding her own son, Spring will be totally open. “I will tell my son the truth about my relationship when he is old enough and I want him to grow up within a healthy and warm-hearted environment,” Spring mumbles. “I had my marriage. I have my son. But I didn‘t have my family. That is want I want to get now.” Not by getting married, but just by living together. “Marrying? No way now. But we will wait. Until the government allows us. But it is a long way to go.”

Hua, 26 Hua went to one of the Singles‘ Day activities. He got a number from a girl. “I asked her out, but she said she doesn‘t have any time right now,” he recalls. An obvious excuse for being not really interested. Hua is working for an Internet company as a salesman. “I am very ambitious for my career. My future girlfriend has to be ambitious for her job. And we should have at least something in common.” Not having these qualities would even be a reason to break up for him. “If we are both poor it would be a reason for me not to pursue the relationship,” he explains. The voice of his parents has also a lot of weight. “If they say no I would break up with the girl.” And of course cheating. For him, love is about chemistry. “But without kids and responsibility, the chemistry won‘t last long,” he adds. But as a contradiction, he doesn‘t want to have kids himself. “You have to face reality. The rents are so expensive nowadays. And I also enjoy just to be together with a woman without a baby or child.” In contrast to most of Chinese men, his prospective woman shouldn‘t be younger than him. “But also not too old,” Hua adds quickly. “Within four or five years of my age would be good.”

The Wedding Four hours of sleep. The eyes are swollen. The preparations for the wedding didn‘t take too long the evening before, but the hotel for the banquet is located on the other side of the city one hour driving from the bride’s parents place. It is a quiet Sunday morning. The clock shows 4 AM and most of the bridesmaids have already arrived. Only the rattling noise of the hair dressers equipment buzzing around the bride interrupts the silence. As using make-up is still rare amongst Chinese women, interested faces witness how the professional transfers the girl usually wearing grey tracksuit bottoms into a traditional beauty queen. The colour of the whole dress is hold in red as this is the traditional symbol of joy. But the joy ends when it comes to money. Nowadays a normal wedding can cost from around 20.000 Yuan (2.500 Euro) up to 100.000 Yuan (12.000 Euro) which includes the rent for the hotel room, the banquet and the money for the wedding company and the host. Wedding expenses are usually shared by the groom and the bride‘s family or are fully paid by the groom‘s family. The groom and bride are expected to save their wages for their future. The young couple has known each other three years and met at their workplace. Answering the question what does she like about her husband-to-be, Yongchen, 23, just laughs and points at him, “Just look at him! Isn‘t this big panda adorable!?” These kind of love marriages are getting out of hand in modern China, but arranged marriages are still common and traditional considerations still play part in deciding who marries whom. The preparations are slowly getting to an end as golden flowers are fiddled into the bride‘s hair. The ‘shuang xi ling men’, red cut-out paper signs symbolizing ‘double happiness will arrive at your door’ are tied up on the entrance door and the outside wall of the house. Firecrackers are set up on the street to welcome the groom. A formal Chinese wedding requires the groom to pick up the bride from her home. The caravan of cars trailing pink ribbons arrives just little later. The groom and his friends drive in similar rented cars to the bride’s house. As the firecrackers are lit, not only the bride but the whole neighbourhood knows about the new arrival. But before entering the flat to get the bride it is still a long way to go for the groom.

Until he and his fellows are welcomed into the house, he first has to hand over a lot of ‘hongbao’, red envelopes containing money, to the bridesmaids. After the groom is let in, the bridesmaids ask tricky questions and make outrageous requests. With the help of some more ‘hongbao’ and the groom’s friends he can pass the tests and finally get into the bride’s room. But there are more obstacles. Now he has to find the bride’s shoes hidden somewhere in the room before he can finally leave with her. After having finally found them, the bride is carried out to the cars and the caravan is moving to the hotel for the most important part of this day: the banquet procedure. Saturdays and Sundays are the most busy days for weddings. It is really hard to find a restaurant in one of the better hotels that is not already occupied by wedding ceremonies. In the old days there was a tradition of referring to a fortune-teller for the decision of an auspicious wedding date based on the ‘shengcheng bazi’ – the year, the month, the day and the time the bride and the groom were born. This tradition has now given way to more economic reasons: the invited guests have to have time and the couple shouldn‘t need to take a day off for the ceremony. After all the guests have handed over their ‘hongbao’ and took their seats, the bride and the groom show up at the banquet. Yongchen is wearing a Chinese ‘qipao’, the traditional red wedding dress. Shenshen‘s suit fits her colours exactly. The host guides the newly-weds through a rather short than long ceremony. After one and a half hours the official part is nearly over. Despite the traditional rituals of a crying marriage where the bride had to cry on the wedding day, this time it is her father that is crying. For most of the brides‘ parents it is hard to let their daughter go after raising their only child for more than twenty years. ‘Gan Bei!’, the Chinese toast for drinking which literally translates into ‘Bottoms up!’ can be heard all over the room. The newly-wed couple now has to drink to their prospective future as a couple with every table. Only after this heavy drinking they can finally get seated and start to eat. The exertion of the day reflects on their faces. Soon after they showed the closest family members their new home, Yongchen can finally get back into her tracksuit. But she seems happy. The decision to take the step into a marriage seems to be the right one for both of them. Not only for their parents or the pressure of the society.

“In his opinion, men need a lot of girls, they need many different women. That was his only excuse.”

Rui, 28

“He kept tracing me for six months until I got into a relationship with him. After 18 months dating we got married. The wedding was nice,” Rui laughs and storms into her bedroom. She comes back with a big poster of her wedding picture. Her husband looks like a Taiwanese singer. After two years of marriage she caught him in bed with a prostitute. “After that, we sat down for a serious conversation. He promised me that he loves me and that he would never do it again,” she recalls. Rui wanted not only to save the marriage but also protect her parent‘s feelings. She knows that they would be anxious about her future. In July Rui found out that her husband was seeing another girl he met on the Internet. “When I questioned him why he cheated on me, he didn‘t talk too much. He talked about the nature of human beings. In his opinion, men need a lot of girls, they need many different women. That was his only excuse.” In the end they agreed that their personalities don‘t match. And they decided to divorce. “Of course I blamed him for that, but I also looked inside myself and tried to realise my own attitude towards a future love,” she recalls, “I want to learn something from that and take it into my next relation.” Rui is confident towards further relationships. “I am not really scared to find another man, but the value of divorced women is definitely lower in our society. But I think I am fine as I am young and I have a lot of friends.” Her future boyfriend‘s parents should also have a good relationship, because Rui believes it influences also how her son sees relationships. She is an independent woman and needs her own space. “I am not like the normal sweet girl,” she smiles. But when it comes to love, she also agrees on more traditional views, “True love is when two people grow up together, care for each other and spend the rest of the life together.” Again Rui goes to the other room and brings a little box with their wedding rings. “I tried to sell it but without luck,” she laughs. So far her own parents don‘t know about her divorce.

“My parents thought that I am a little psycho. They struggled, cried and have been threatened to death.”

Xiao, 29 

Xiao seems to be very nervous today. Her look wanders around the room. She is waiting for her new girlfriend. It is the second time she is meeting her. “I started to date boyfriends but I realised that it wasn‘t the right thing for me. I just felt dissatisfied with dating guys. I didn‘t find the qualities I was looking for,” she explains. After two boyfriends she started to date girls. She realised that she is a lesbian two years ago. It was also the time when she decided to divorce from the marriage that her parents set up for her six years earlier. Xiao is now 29 years old. Being asked what does she feel for her girlfriend she answers, “For a man and a woman there exist a lot of conditions. Family, children and many more. It is not love, but I definitely have a good feeling with her without any conditions.” She smiles and continues, “I don‘t believe in love, just in the feeling of the moment. This feeling can last for a few months or years, but maybe it is not for a lifetime. It is just for the moment.” She came out to everyone she knows. “My parents thought that I am a little psycho. They struggled, cried and have been threatened to death,” she remembers. After Chinese New Year, she brought home her ex-girlfriend and they accepted her anyhow. “We are not proud of her, but we accept who she is now,” Xiao’s father admits. “I was pretty shocked in the beginning and couldn‘t accept it. I believed it was a result of her marriage and the fights she had.” Her parents started out intolerant and accept her daughter now with time. “We are still afraid of the reaction of other friends and co-workers. That‘s why we didn‘t tell anybody so far,” Mrs. Shi stutters. Even it is now legal to be a lesbian, Xiao‘s parents are still afraid that people will look at them condescendingly and that they may loose respect and face. “We are still hoping, that she will get married again with another guy,” Mr. Shi concludes. Xiao got divorced the day before. Her son is going to be five years old soon. She lost him to her husband because he got evidence that she is a homosexual. “He just recorded a lot at our home to prove that I am lesbian,” she sighs. But her tonality reveals, that she is still satisfied the way it is. In China homosexuals are still considered to be unable to raise a child. Her girlfriend brought tea and dried mushrooms as a gift for Xiao’s parents. She wants to show her respect to the parents and participate in their family life.

thank you Søren Birgit Herbert Liisi Sarah Jan Rafael Jeppe Nikolaj Xi Phoebe Lala Shalong (www.lalabar.com)

© 2011 Fabian Weiß All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. www.fabianweiss.com

© 2011 Fabian Weiß

Profile for Fabian Weiss

Conceptions of Love  

Finding one's better half can be a tricky business in modern China. With hectic work schedules, nagging parents and a growing gender imbalan...

Conceptions of Love  

Finding one's better half can be a tricky business in modern China. With hectic work schedules, nagging parents and a growing gender imbalan...