I remember almost 10 years ago when I first came to China, a viral video made quite an impression on me. It featured a woman from Shanghai throwing a fit at a car dealership, demanding her boyfriend buy her a brand new car.
The man desperately tried to claim that the car didn’t “suit” her, but the woman continued to drive up and down the carpark, presumably threatening to drive off the lot. Finally, the man gave in and handed over his credit card.
The video made me think long and hard about gender roles and dating in China. Was this attitude of entitlement prevalent here, and why would the man give in to such childish behavior? Also, what would possess a grown woman to throw a temper tantrum like this in a public place? As far as I was concerned, it was akin to a three-year-old demanding her mother buy her candy at the checkout counter.
After looking into Chinese gender roles in dating in a bit more detail, I discovered that for many Chinese men, especially in China’s bigger cities, finding a girlfriend, falling in love and eventually getting married can be a huge financial commitment. Chinese women have certain monetary expectations of their men that, while are not completely unknown, are certainly not celebrated in the West.
Behavior that a Westerner might consider “gold-digging” is often viewed much less harshly in Chinese society. When my husband, who is Chinese, and I started dating, he was confused by the fact that I didn’t want to be showered with gifts and that I didn’t expect him to buy an apartment before we got married. Such material goods were not important to me and neither I nor any of my close friends had ever chosen a man based on the size of his wallet.
I soon learned, however, that many of my Chinese male friends had been dumped by girls for not ponying up gifts from the start of their relationships. The girls expected all meals to be paid for by the boyfriend and regular expensive gifts for themselves and even their parents. One of my Chinese friends said bluntly that he simply couldn’t afford a girlfriend right now. Girlfriends are expensive!
Much of this, of course, is cultural rather than a fundamental difference between the natures of Chinese and Western women. The feminist movement still hasn’t hit China in the same way that it did the West, and ideas about gender roles remain largely traditional; the man is the breadwinner while the woman runs the household.
While many modern Chinese women do work outside the home, their husbands are still expected to be able to provide enough money for the both of them if needs be. Chinese parents also encourage their daughters to choose a husband based on what he can provide, and the majority of men are seen as ineligible without a car and an apartment to their name.
When I first told my parents about my Chinese boyfriend (now husband), their first concern was with whether or not he loved me. I fear most Chinese parents would first ask about the man’s job, the level of his education and what his parents do.
And while women might marry up in Chinese society, a man almost never does so. This taboo also massively affects the job prospects of Chinese women, as some parents caution their daughters against earning higher graduate degrees. A woman with a PhD, for example, is by default limiting herself to a very small pool of potential husbands.
While these things are perhaps to be expected in a society with very traditional gender roles, can they really explain the behavior of the Shanghai woman in the car dealership? When did the idea of a man providing for his woman make a public display of entitlement and greed okay?
More recently I saw a show on Chinese TV in which a woman was lured away from her soulmate, a man of humble means, by a rich man who could give her and her son a better life. The woman is portrayed as conflicted and her dilemma both understandable and difficult. Although similar narratives are not uncommon in Western TV shows and films, the overriding message is always that loves wins. I was a little sad to see that this was not the outcome in the Chinese show. When so many, from parents, to friends, to the media, are telling you that money takes precedence over happiness, is it any wonder that some women might, in the absence of happiness, simply demand more ostentatious displays of wealth?
It’s also only relatively recently that this level of wealth has even been attainable for all but the elite of Chinese society. For a generation only once removed from revolution and starvation, the rabid pursuit of wealth must seem like a great privilege and even a fundamental right. Is it not surprising that those whose grandparents suffered under such hardships have exaggerated ideas about the importance of money and security?
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Keywords: living and working in China
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There's no denying the fact that material wealth plays a significant role when choosing a partner in China. But I wonder if this is a transient behavior - assuming that the country keeps in developing. Men with money basically mean more security and stability in a society that severely lacks social welfare (China is still better than many other countries, however). The question is if this will change in the future, or if this is a cultural trait rather than a trait that is based on the need for survival. Most grandparents in China remember the terrible years of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and they are certainly very vocal about who their grandchildren marries.
Nov 13, 2019 17:40 Report Abuse