Resisting Spring Festival pressures to get married — phrase of the week

Society & Culture

Lunar New Year, AKA Spring Festival, is like Thanksgiving for young Chinese people, who have to face their older relatives’ probing questions, and there’s one particular question that is most burdensome.

pink hand holding engagement ring
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng.

Our phrase of the week is: Resisting Spring Festival pressures to get married (春节反催婚 chūnjié fǎn cuīhūn).

Context

Going home for the New Year (Spring Festival) can be stressful for young people working in Chinese cities. There’s even a word for it: going home anxiety disorder (回家焦虑症 huí jiā jiāolǜ zhèng).

Recent media interviews with young women on their fears of going home to visit their families reveal the social pressure they can face to get married. The story of one of those interviewed, Xiǎo Xuě 小雪, is typical. She lives in Shenzhen, is approaching 30 years old, and still doesn’t have a partner.

For young women like me, who are away from home working in China’s cities, pressure to get married is an inevitable part of going home for New Year. Resistance to it, in turn, becomes an essential tactic to learn.

对像我这样的异乡“打工人”来说,催婚,是一道春节必考题。反催婚,也就成了一门必修课

Translation and understanding

Xiao Xue and other interviewees explain that being pressured to get married, cuī hūn 催婚, is a reality of life for many young people, especially women, and at its most intense during Chinese New Year when families are together.

This colloquial phrase helps explain why getting married is seen as mandatory: Upon reaching a certain age, every male should take a wife and every female should take a husband (男大当婚,女大当嫁 nán dà dāng hūn, nǚ dà dāng jià).

The idea of being married off before you are 30 is no longer as relevant, possible, or affordable for people like Xiao Xue, born in 1990s China, struggling to establish their lives and careers in cities like Shenzhen. It’s a glimpse into some of the tensions between younger and older generations in mostly one-child families, and in Chinese society more broadly due to the social transformations in China over the last four decades.

Resisting pressures to get married, 反催婚 fǎn cuī hūn, is what Xiao Xue and others do to get through the endless interrogations when they go home for Chinese New Year. She explains there are social media accounts and chat groups with lively discussions of different ways to resist around this time of year.

A favorite tactic is setting overly high standards for potential candidates and proactively giving regular spreadsheet-based updates to parents, explaining that it takes time to find someone suitable.


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Andrew Methven