Making a Friend: Changing Patterns of Courtship
COURTSHIP IN CHINA, usually referred to with the euphemism "making a friend," became visible to foreigners in the 1980's. Tourists often returned from Mao's China wondering about the hidden rituals of love and marriage. But in the post-Mao era, returning Americans were more likely to comment on the hundreds of people lined up two by two in the evening along the Bund in Shanghai, or the amorous couples hidden behind every bush in Beijing's Purple Bamboo Park. The change in courtship patterns was not entirely in the eye of the beholder. Young Chinese in the 1980's became more public in their displays of affection, reflecting a general liberalization in public mores with the end of the Cultural Revolution. This liberalization extended beyond daily street behavior to the realm of public discussion in the Chinese press.
Courtship, love, and marriage in 1980's China were probably talked about more, and agreed about less, than at any time since the May Fourth Movement of 1919. The discussion was no longer limited to daring intellectuals and students, as it had been during the May Fourth era. It extended to most sectors of the urban population, and on some issues to the countryside as well.
The discussion included a wide range of issues: the role of the matchmaker, parental participation in the choice of a partner, the problem of finding a mate appropriate to one's social status, the emotional perils of courtship, and even sex and the public parks. Conflicting sets of priorities--economic, emotional, and social--made these issues every bit as confusing as they are in the West, though for somewhat different reasons. Some conflicts resulted from generational differences, as young people moved toward more control over their own marriage choice. The issues that the Chinese reading public found most troubling, however--changing marital criteria, growing numbers of single people, and premarital sex--reflected differences in gender as well as generation. Men and