Popular Chinese TV series ‘Naked Wedding’ (literally ‘Naked Marriage Era’) explores the rising ‘naked marriage’ trend in China.
Media stories about Chinese marriage trends read like an endless refrain on the subject of materialism. In last few years, reports by NPR, the Telegraph, the National, and the New York Times have focused on the enormous financial transactions that precede the nuptials of China’s younger, materialistic generation and keep its poor men single. Tales of staggering dowries and “bride prices” depict couples who marry for economic gain, and maybe love, dragging a payload of cash, apartments, and cars into married life. While fascinating, these headlines miss some of the story about marriage in China. The financial expectations of single ladies have undoubtedly increased over the last decade or two, but not everybody has bought into the fiscal frenzy.
Are China’s Single Ladies Really That Demanding?
According to an oft-quoted 2011 survey, the “Chinese Marriage Situation Survey Report” the answer is yes. This survey, which asked 50,000 participants to specify their marital expectations, found that 92% of Chinese ladies thought a stable income was necessary for marriage, 70% thought a man should only marry after buying his own property, and 50% expected a man to provide at least a down payment if he could not purchase the home outright.
But an even bigger report, The 2012-2013 Survey Report on Chinese People’s Love and Marriage Values, came up with rather different figures. Jointly conducted by China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission and the popular dating website Jiayuan.com, this survey of more than 77,000 participants found that only 52% of women believed that home ownership was a necessary condition for marriage. Interestingly, 66% of men did not think property should be a matrimonial prerequisite.
Whether it is actually 70% or 50% of women who won’t marry without a home in hand, both the 2011 and 2012 surveys agreed that such expectations are a growing trend with the post-1980 generations. Women in their thirties and forties were less likely than younger women to demand this kind of payout from their groom. The surveys did not say why, but many 1970s-generation women grew up in a poorer China, watching the simpler marriage transactions of twenty and thirty years ago. On the other hand, single women are considered “leftover” by age thirty, and are pushed to marry before all chance of a husband evaporates. Under the circumstances, some may be willing to accept a husband without any real estate to offer.
Ironically, a recent legal revision may favor wives who don’t push their husbands to get an apartment before the wedding. In 2010, the Chinese legislature officially cut wives out of their share in any real estate purchased by their husband before the marriage. Ostensibly intended to slow the divorce rate and protect men from the clutches of prospective gold-diggers, the revision was dubbed “the law that makes men laugh and women cry.” It sparked a national outcry among Chinese women.
Bucking the Trend with “Naked Marriages”
What is often overlooked is the fact that a full one-third to one-half of China’s vast population does not insist on sealing wedding vows with material things. Many who want to emphasize marrying for love, or who at least want to be realistic about their financial situation, are opting for a luǒhūn, or “naked marriage” instead. This kind of marriage is one that is not ornamented with an apartment, car, or elaborate wedding party. Couples who choose a naked marriage pay a scant 9 RMB ($1.45) for a marriage certificate at the office of civil affairs, and may have a small party with family and friends.
One such woman, a 1980s-born engineer who called herself “Wendy,” got a naked marriage with a man she met on the internet. She was twenty-nine when they met and anxious to marry. “My husband and I didn’t really follow any customs for our marriage,” she explained. “We did not do the formal engagement with our parents or exchange the traditional gifts. The day we went to register our marriage was just the same as any normal day. It was nothing special. We didn’t have a wedding ceremony, just a party for family and friends in my home town. That was all ok for me.” Wendy had their first (and only) baby last year, and her parents have since moved in to help. Her husband has not earned a single yuan since their wedding, but has been working on a line of children’s products he hopes to launch soon. Wendy was unconcerned about his lack of income, though, and said she believed his products would soon make money for their son. She describes herself as happily married, and her husband as loving.
Other stories did not turn out so well. One such woman, a 1970s-born Shenzhen resident named Xingxing, explained that she met her husband through an internet match-making site. She was thirty-three at the time, and had a decent job, an apartment, and even an investment apartment of her own. Rather than try to match her holdings, her groom told her that he was going to hand his entire life savings over to his parents before their wedding. “He planned to start from zero with me,” Xingxing explained. “I felt a little uncomfortable about this, but I reminded myself that he cares for his parents, so he is a good man.” From the start, her friends thought her husband was unsuitable, but when he suggested they get a naked marriage, one friend really got angry. “She thought he didn’t trust me and that his “gift” to his parents was really just a defensive maneuver against me spending all of his money,” Xingxing sighed. Their marriage soured within six months, as her husband lost job after job and Xingxing’s own real estate office closed. Three years later, after a battle with infertility and incompatible sexual values, the couple divorced.
While some of these marriages will fail, national statistics suggest that most couples who marry the ‘naked way’ are just as satisfied with their lives, if not more satisfied, than those whose marriages are more lucrative. The Chinese Marriage Situation Survey Report found that about 70% of participants who chose such a marriage were satisfied with their lives. Similarly, a 2010 nation-wide survey of all types of married couples reported 62% were happy with their marriage. In 2012, another survey of 1,000 people, called the Survey of Chinese People’s Love and Marriage Happiness, found that 18% of married folk were very happy, while 60% were relatively happy, landing 78% somewhere in the happy zone.
All in all, while it remains fair to claim that financial security motivates the majority of marriage decisions in current-day China, this assertion cannot be applied to everyone. Millions of brides and grooms marry under different circumstances, and for different motivations. Not every bride demands “a groom with a view.”