A non-Chinese friend of mine regularly engages me in conversations about marriage. Some days she is full of praise for how enduring Chinese marriages are and other days, full of scorn for how materialistic our women are, putting up with the shenanigans of men for the sake of money.
“Ah, but it isn’t just about money,” said I. “Our families are practically knitted together. Separation and divorce would be traumatic for everyone on both sides.”
“But you know my girlfriend in Shanghai, her husband just goes and sleeps with any woman. And she stays with him because they have lots and lots of money.”
“Perhaps he does, but as far as his family is concern, she is his wife. Unless she’s infertile, if not her place is more or less assured. Our primary concern is always stability of the home for the children.”
She shook her head. “But how can she put up with a guy like that?”
What my non-Chinese friend was unaware of was this checklist her friend’s in-laws had signed off on before allowing the woman to enter the family. I dare say that if I were to have been some factory-worker whose parents were market traders, my in-laws wouldn’t have signed off on me either. But my non-Chinese friend wouldn’t understand these things.
So at the risk of copping a hiding from other Chinese for exposing our mating practises, not to mention criticisms from non-Chinese who just won’t get it, here are the tenets of Chinese mate-selection.
1) Always marry a Chinese because non-Chinese don’t get us. If you aren’t a Chinese and wondering what you can do about this, wait, wait, I’ll get to that later.
2) Bamboo doors should face bamboo doors, wooden doors, other wooden doors. In a sense, this ties in to number 1, but it goes further than that. It means that if you are a uni graduate, you should marry another uni graduate. Your family backgrounds have to be comparable. If they aren’t, then the one with the better background will suffer after marriage. Let me give you an example. One comes from a family where there are no siblings to support, money is in abundance and anything the person wants, he or she can get. Another comes from a family where there are many siblings to support, money is tight. Forgetting the fact that they probably both have very different attitudes to money, which in itself is one of the top reasons people divorce, the one with more will be subjected to the hardships of the one with less.
Perhaps it is all bearable in the name of love, but Chinese parents don’t want a life of hand-stretching for their children. Certainly if Amanda were to ask me for money after marriage, or even after graduation, I’d be most pissed off. And the rest of our family would most certainly hear about it.
3) Think about your children. This is what my mother said to me a long, long, time ago. Every generation is supposed to improve on the one before, but how can generational progress be achieved if you are yoked to someone a lot worse off than yourself?
She said, “Ok, so you say you love this person now. But your children are going to NEED a roof, a good education (one that is at least comparable to yours) etc… Do you want them to go without? To be deprived? Love cannot keep their bellies full.”
4) Find a STABLE character. Of all the “personal” qualities, this is perhaps the most important. Caucasians remark on how good looking a person is, citing it as an excuse to pick him or her, while all Chinese parents want to know is, “Is this guy or girl dependable? Will this person be able to care for my child the way I do after I’m gone?”
Accordingly, to say a person is stable and dependable is exceedingly high praise. It’s much better than being called good-looking, except to Chinese who’ve all but lost their culture.
So what do you do if you can’t meet criteria 1 and 2? In other words, what can you do if you aren’t Chinese or have a suitable background? Here are my suggestions, borne of countless hours of observation. It will work, provided you try long and hard enough.
- Make the family like you. All right, so they won’t like that you are poor and the wrong race. But you can make them see that you have a) a stable, dependable character b) are genuine towards their offspring (parents have sharpened bull-shit radars so be warned) c) have potential to improve your lot AND are taking steps to do so.
- At no time should you a) whine b) brag c) criticise any member of the family. For a crash course on decorum go borrow the Joy Luck Club from your video store and fast forward to the point one of the girls brings home a Caucasian boyfriend.
- Take an active interest in BEING Chinese. Yes, we know you are not one. All the more you should take an active interest in our archaic customs and practises. If his or her family say you are “just like a Chinese”, it’s high praise and means you’ve been accepted by them.
- If you do want to impress the family, show that you are improving yourself; be it by learning Mandarin, or learning how to cook Chinese food or buying good stocks… Whatever you do, don’t try to impress them by talking about your dream to own a row of posh cars. a) cars lose value the moment you drive them off the tarmac, so they’ll think you have very poor money sense and consequently, a poor choice for their beloved offspring b) they’ll think you frivolous for only thinking about cars.
- Don’t be offended if they dislike you. The onus is on you to win them over, so win them over you must. Fighting fire with fire will only make your beloved have to choose between them and you. Before marriage, she or he isn’t going to choose you.
So that’s all I have to say about Chinese mate-selection. You don’t have to marry one of us, but if you want to, the above-mentioned tips will help you along.