Civil(ish) Unions in Shanghai

In Shanghai there is quite literally a market for everything. I went and had a custom couch made at the couch market near Xujiahui. Next door there is a painter’s market alley where you can commission paintings for fairly cheap. There is a motorcycle market north of town where you can get everything you could possibly need related to biking or pop in for a cheap repair. Electronics markets abound. I’ve even heard of a duvet market.

Another Shanghai institution is the Shanghai marriage market in People’s Square. It’s a fascinating glimpse into how mostly elderly parents are on the hunt for a mate for their children, who they describe as being “too busy” to date. “Mr Zeng, an affable father in his 50s, explains, ‘In China, it is the parents’ responsibility to find a suitable suitor for their children.’ Whether their children agree with their approach is a different matter, with some unaware their parents are touting them behind their backs.”

Shanghai marriage market
At the Shanghai Marriage Market

But perhaps even more interestingly is the phenomenon of gay arranged marriages, which has gotten quite a bit of press recently. In this case, however, instead of parents arranging matches for their children, gays and lesbians are matching up with each other in order to quell the sometimes insurmountable social pressure to get married.

“In China, the pressure to get married increases as a child ages through their 20s. It is commonly accepted that marriage, and most importantly the beginning of a family, should happen before the age of 30. For women especially, this familial and societal pressure can be heavy, lest she be negatively thought of as a shengnü, or leftover woman. It’s a term of shame without a male equivalent, and one that can add to a parent’s desperation.”

Shanghai marriage market text
Advertising the kids

Instead of “suffering” through straight marriages, as so many gays have in past generations, and still do, more and more popular is a new method- a meet and greet of sorts in a local yoga studio to find a gay partner of the opposite sex. Sounds odd, but it could be a lesser of several evils. “No. 15, a strikingly tall man with side-swept bangs, says: ‘I want to get married for my parents, but I think lying to them will make me feel terrible. So I want to have a fake marriage with a lesbian girl, but just for one or two years, and then I want a divorce to show my parents that I am not a marriage type.’ There’s one constant: All the participants talk about pleasing their parents.”

It’s an interesting concept to be sure, and goes to show that gay life for many mainland Chinese and Shanghai residents presents persistent and unique challenges.

If you’re interested in learning more about gay life in China, join UnTour for our special GayAsian Adventure to explore the lighter side of gay life in Shanghai. It’s customizable based on specific interests, fun, and can include anything from a giant sex and health products market, happening night-life spots, unique spas, and so much more.

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