The Marriage Problem (结婚问提)

Cities

 

(下面有中文)

 

BEIJING Last month while home for  Christmas I attended a ninetieth birthday party for my Grandma with family and friends. Like others returning from China I went through that process of trying to explain the unexplainable fascination with China. Yet more than once I sensed a certain fumbling for questions from my interlocutors, it was them for a change struggling to small talk, not me.

 

The struggle in part came from the fact that they could not ask the standard questions about family and spouses that they asked others at the party. “How is the wife?” “How are the children?” They could only ask “Is the food good in China?””

 

While I was in the US I watched an interview on The Newshour with professor Stephanie Coontz from Evergreen State College discussing the declining rate of marriage in the US. Marriage in the United States continues to evolve and be a source of debate. When I’m in Beijing, I often get asked about this, and say that contrary to what they might think, in the US the vast majority of Americans at some point get married, yet right now the percentage of Americans married is at a low of 51%. The US is not Northern Europe where increasingly partners are the norm, but there clearly is an evolution in relationship patterns.

 

Studying Chinese in Beijing I have discussed the issues of marriage and divorce multiple times, often with my textbook framing it as the “marriage problem”. There is a sense and some factual basis that people are marrying less during the culturally and legally created window of one’s mid to late 20’s (see Economist). Legally women and men must wait until their early to mid 20’s to marry, yet it seems culturally they should be married by their early 30’s with baby on the way.

 

Chatting with the woman I buy almonds from, I realized that perhaps there is a link between my “marriage story” and my “China story” that I regularly tell. The woman mentioned “独立(duli)”,which translates as everything from sovereignty and self-help to all alone according to Google. What she meant, was that in the United States the period between childhood and getting married is much longer, whereas in China even as the marriage age may rise its more common to stay at home until married. I replied (in Chinese) “Not necessarily …Hey look in Beijing, you have lots of people from outside Beijing who come and go to college, and then they stay and try to find work, their parents are still in other places.”

 

My “China story” is of my non-Beijinger friends who exhibit a certain angst as they ask me if majors in the US are any more useful in finding a job than in China, who struggle to find work, or at least somewhat satisfying work as they attempt to support themselves. My “marriage story” that I often bring up to co-worker’s lamenting their child hasn’t married yet, is of a friend of mine who divorced around 30 with a very cute one-year old daughter. This friend, part of the 37% of divorcees in Beijing, now occupies a weird space between motherhood and bachelorhood, aided by her mom’s visits to Beijing to look after the daughter. What links them, is that in some ways, both now try to sort out their duli.

 

Questions asked about marriage in the US and China are a basis of small talk and a barometer of social values and norms, but they also speak to the question of support, to the question of duli. As we live in a capitalist society, what support networks do we have and/or want to have?

 

 

Follow Chris on Twitter @enviroeberhardt

 

 

结婚问提

 

北京 我上个月回家过圣诞节,看我奶奶。最近我奶奶的身体越来越不好。我在家的时候我奶奶过九十岁的生日。在附近教堂有一个晚会,朋友家人都来了。我跟家人或我奶奶朋友聊天乐,可是我觉得他们经常不知道他们应该问我什么问提。“在中国中餐好吃吗?”我觉得他们的问提就是他们不能问我普通的问提,比如“你的老婆怎么样?“”你的孩子多大?“等。我真的不爱说话,可是当时好像他们真害羞的。

 

我在美国的时候我看电视新闻,有一个记者跟教授访谈。这个 Coontz老师在一个华盛顿州公立大学教书。她说在美国结婚率下降了,目前在美国百分之五十一是已婚。我在北京的时候人经常问我关于美国结婚率的问提。我说,其实大部分的美国人会结婚。

 

我在北京学汉语的时候我经常谈婚姻和离婚,或者可能我应该说“结婚问提”。好像在中国你应该三十岁前结婚,到了三十岁应该有孩子。

 

前天我去小摊买坚果。我跟人聊天的时候我意识到,可能两个故事有关系,我的“结婚故事“与”中国故事“。一个女的问,在美国独立是不是比较长。我回答“不一定,可是你看,在北京有很多外地人来读书,毕业之后他们在北京生活,他们的父母不在北京。

 

“我的“中国故事“就是我有几个外地朋友,他们找不到工作,或者至少他们找不到满意的工作。”结婚故事“呢?有时候我跟同事谈婚姻。她们真不知道她们的孩子是否会结婚。我经常提一个朋友的情况。她三十岁的时候离婚了,当时她有一岁非常可爱的女儿。好像这个朋友真不知道她应生什么样的活,有时她是妈妈,有时候因为她妈妈来北京照顾孩子她是单身。

 

无论你在美国还是在中国,人喜欢谈婚姻。你听人说话,你知道在文化里,什么是最重要的。可是我觉得还有一个问提,跟独立有关系。如果在一个市场经济社会生活,你想生独力的活妈?

 

 

Follow Chris on Twitter @enviroeberhardt

 

 

China, Social Networks, United States