WATCH: What it’s like for a 34-year-old unwed woman at Shanghai’s marriage market
That awkward moment when you tell marriage market goers that you were born in 1983
Armed with a hidden camera, one 34-year-old unwed woman decided to subject herself to frequent trips to Shanghai’s popular “marriage market” in People’s Park as part of a social research project in which she recorded her interactions with the parents there searching for a suitable match for their still unmarried children.
In her personal profile poster, Guo Yingguang, listed her impressive academic accomplishments— summa cum laude, master’s degree from a foreign university — and her high monthly salary, but all that people seemed to care about was a piece of information that she had left out — her age.
When Guo tells them that she was born in 1983, an awkward moment inevitably follows with the disappointment and unease readily apparent on the parents’ faces. “Oh, you are very brave,” one auntie tells Guo.
Afterward, some begin discussing Guo, her age, and achievements like she isn’t even there.
“There are too many accomplished girls out here. She makes ten to twenty grand a month, and he only three or four? Nobody wants that,” says one man.
“50% of the girls over 35 here will stay single all their lives. Because there’s just nobody for them. It’s no good for girls to have too much education,” he continues. “As the old saying goes: ‘A woman’s virtue lies in her lack of talent.’”
Guo said that at the marriage market she was described in terms of real estate as a “nice apartment,” but one that was located out in the suburbs because of her age.
In China, Guo is classified a “leftover women” (剩女), a buzzword that has become popular in China in recent years to describe women who are of marriageable age, but aren’t married yet, often because they decided to focus instead on their careers.
Over a period of two years, Guo says that she visited the marriage market on at least 10 occassions. The first time, she was only able to last 5 minutes before she decided that she had had enough.
However, over time, she says that she began to better understand the parents at the market — their own anxieties and frustrations. While she still couldn’t agree with the way they thought about life, she could at least accept their ideas, though she does still have a message for them:
I am not against marriage. What I am against is the uniform criteria of happiness. You have to get married at a certain age. If you don’t, you can’t be happy. You are a loser in life.
I want us to be us. We know what we want. So let us live our lives.
Guo turned her experiences at the marriage market into a graduation project for her master’s degree in photography from the London University of the Arts.
Meanwhile, Yitiao ( 一条), a popular online short video producer, has published a video on Guo which has gone viral on Chinese social media over the last week, placing the “leftover women” phenomenon back in the spotlight once again.
You can watch it below. Make sure to turn on English subtitles:
Guo’s project is somewhat reminiscent of a documentary-style ad made a couple of years by Japanese beauty giant SK-II, which featured “leftover women” taking their parents to Shanghai’s marriage market to explain to them their hopes, dreams, and why they are still single.
[Images via Yitiao]