In China today, there are 20 million men who cannot find a bride.


Shanghai is China’s richest city, and one of the least fertile, with a birthrate half the national average. One in three of the city’s women in their late 20s is single, three times as many as 15 years ago, according to the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy. A generation of independent, educated, wage-earning women want to marry who they want, when they want.

Not if their parents can help it. Hundreds of them spend weekend afternoons at the marriage market in the city’s People’s Park, searching out spouses for their daughters. It’s all very businesslike – the signs they hold up read like résumés, giving age and height, then education, job, assets, and income. Prospective suitors or their parents exchange phone numbers to set up meetings, or browse the details of 300 potential brides found in the 5 RMB (US$0.80) booklets that matchmakers sell. A corresponding book with 300 eligible men costs 30 RMB ($4.75). Evidently, men are in demand. But not for much longer. China’s 1979 one-child policy and the wave of sex-selective abortions it provoked have skewed the country’s gender balance for a generation; according to the Chinese Academy of Social Science, by 2020, 24 million Chinese men will be unable to find a wife.

Adverts in the People’s Park marriage market specify age, height, job, assets, and income.
How to negotiate a marriage in People’s Park


Every weekend in People’s Park, Shanghai, parents gather to advertise their children’s details on A4 sheets of paper that they display prominently, on noticeboards, walls, or by clipping them to tree branches.

Use a matchmaker

Parents often employ professional matchmakers who set up meetings between clients, charging between US$1 and $3 per meeting. Some don’t charge people advertising sons, as men are more in demand.

Meet the parents

After browsing the advertisements, interested parties meet and ask for further details on education, job and salary. If they think they’ve found a potential match, they will exchange photos and phone numbers.

Be picky

Some parents attend the market for years without finding a partner for their child. Despite the lack of men available, many are picky and will only choose a groom if he owns a car, an apartment and has a stable income.

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From the pages of COLORS #85 - Going to Market.