Chinese New Year marks start of marriage pressure season

Chinese New Year starts Friday and for many young Chinese Calgarians it means the pressure is on to tie the knot.

Mandarin character for 'peace' based on concepts of happy home with married partner

The Chinese New Year is a time for celebrating with family and friends, but it's also a season filled with pressure to get married for many young people. (Shutterstock)

Chinese New Year starts Friday and for many young Chinese Calgarians it means the pressure is on to tie the knot.

Often perceived as a time for food, family and gift-giving, the new year celebrations also mark a time of planning for the future.

When there are young, unmarried people in the family, attention often shifts onto the perceived problem of needing to find that person a husband or wife. 

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"They say, 'You're getting old, you should find someone,'" said 26-year-old Smiley Liu of the reaction from aunts, uncles and friends who learn she is still single. 

In one high-profile incident, a Chinese mother recently bought the entire front of an Australian newspaper to beg her son to come home for the holiday, which she promised would be free of marriage pressure. 

Much of the idealization of marriage comes from the male perspective, said Shu-Ning Sciban, a recently-married Chinese Calgarian.

Traditionally, once a man had a wife he would be looked after for the rest of his life and that is seen as a good thing.

Even the Mandarin language reflects the belief that married life is happy life, with the character for "peace" made up of two symbols — a house with a woman underneath.

"If a house has a woman, you have peace," Sciban said. "You're talking about marriage pressure, then I think it's rooted in the tradition."

Parents fear lack of support for single kids

Another factor in the pressure to get married is concern from older parents who fear their single child will have to fend for themselves once they die.

"For your parents, when they get older they think maybe you don't get support because now you only maybe have one sibling," said Leeza Chan.

"[They say], 'What if I pass away, nobody is going to take care of you,' so they become worried and then they say 'Your life goal is to get a husband.'"

If young people can't get husbands where they live, it's not unheard of for them to move back to their parent's homeland to seek a spouse.

"I have friends that their really younger relatives, they go back to Hong Kong, China, to get a wife or a husband and then they come back," said Chan. 

Marriage without good partner not worth it

However, some parents are more flexible than others.

Liu says her parents didn't get along well and, although her mother gave birth to her at age 29, she doesn't see marriage as the be-all, end-all.

"My mom thinks that if I can't find a good one, [I'd] better not marry," she said.

Chan says she feels the same way and wouldn't pressure her children into getting married.

"Sometimes getting married isn't all that great," she said.

"There's a lot of divorces happening right now so ... if you can't get a good husband, don't marry."