Dating show is a mirror of reality, which reflects the typical image of “Chinese parents” and the actual condition of love and marriage issues in the “Giant Baby Nation”. It is also a basket filled with economic concerns, livelihood issues, desires and ties of kinship. When two generations come to a dating show and discuss the highly-concerned problem of marriage together, getting it all out on the table, the stage becomes a magnifier of family relationships and social problems.
Chinese Dating devised a brand new format of TV dating: parents come to the show to choose potential partners for their kids, and once they have given their approval, the matched two will meet face-to-face and have further communication, throughout which the parents will also take part in.
However, the show has received a mixed reaction since the first episode was aired. Some critics deemed the show a revival of outdated arranged marriages or a retrogression of free marriage rather than so called innovative practice. However, the proponents claimed that dating show is just a mirror of reality that reflects every aspect of love and marriage issues in the Giant Baby Nation, China.
When two generations discuss the highly-concerned problem of marriage together on the stage, the dating show becomes a magnifier of parent-child relationship.
The weekly show Chinese Dating, hosted by Jin Xing, premiered on Shanghai Dragon Television on December 25, 2016, the selling point of which was “the first intergenerational dating show” as parents and kids jointly selecting potential partners on the show.
Huang Tongtong, a columnist, believes that the show has revealed the snobbish and brutal profile of marriage market in China. “Only in China could you see such an unusual practice of dating.”
She also doubts that those Chinese parents are looking for a docile combination of breeding machine and nanny instead of a daughter-in-law. When asked to describe their ideal daughter-in-law on the show, the parents blurted out words like hardworking, caring, young, elegant and fertile. Huang said that these requirements demonstrated a misconception of women’s role in marriage and indicated an unjust treatment to the new generation of women.
“The majority in this nation naturally judge women by these criteria. Can you do housework? Can you take care of me? Can you bear children? Are you good looking? Are you rich? If you are no longer young and fertile, you mean nothing at all, even your knowledge, your cultivation, your rich experiences, your ambition, your wisdom and even your beauty that most valued by Chinese men cannot save you – you are a loser in the marriage market.” Huang Tongtong wrote.
After the broadcast, the controversy triggered by Chinese Dating went beyond the anticipation of its production team. And its producer Liu Yuan said that the idea was to deliver some positive values to audience, i.e., display varied cases on the show by presenting guests’ behaviors and their final outcomes, thus advocate inter-generational communications. However, she admitted that some detailed settings of the show were not given careful consideration. For example, a female candidate in the first episode was quite excellent, but she left the stage without a suitable match because there was no male candidate on site that well matched her in age. When two generations come to the dating show and discuss the highly-concerned problem of marriage together, getting it all out on the table, the stage becomes a magnifier of family relationships and social problems.
“Chinese people are extremely sensitive to the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. When I look back, I find that something presented on TV may intensify that kind of sensitivity. People may wonder why the mother-in-law is so fastidious about such a nice girl,” Liu said. In her opinion, the sensitivity towards such topic in our society brings the young audience, especially the young ladies, to a passive position and to be judged and chosen by others. In this case, any question raised by a bachelor’s mother to female candidates is easily misinterpreted as critical and picky, even it is rational.
Liu insisted that Chinese Dating was not designed to be an ordinary dating show but to reflect the realistic condition of marriage market in China. She said that, according to China’s traditional culture and social value, Chinese people pay more attention to family relationship than other things. Therefore, many people often say that “marriage is not a matter between two people but involves the merging of two families.” 2015 Annual Report on marital attitude of Chinese men and women released by Jiayuan.com on February 14, 2016 indicated that most people gained a sense of security in their relations from “the approval of family members and people around them”. More precisely, 38% of surveyed men and 50% of surveyed women held that view. In addition, 27% of male respondents and 20% of female respondents thought that their sense of security came from the fact that their romantic relationships were compatible with specific social values.
“No matter how reluctant our young people are to share this view, in the end and in the real world, marriage must be a union of two families. If two families could meet and communicate in the first place, the prospective couple will have a more rational judgment about whether their relationship can go on well,” Liu explained.
After making the first four episodes of Chinese Dating, the production team found that the success rate of those candidates was quite high, almost bringing about at least one couple in every episode. Liu attributed the high success rate to the introduction of “family involvement”. She said that, in former dating shows, bachelors and bachelorettes that came onto the stage with varied motives like making friends, presenting themselves or gaining fame. Those motives that were irrelevant to marriage and love would wane with the involvement of parents in the show, while the original intention of dating (i.e. finding potential spouse) would be enforced. “Parents are not here to play a drama with you. They are rather traditional. Participating in the dating show with their children, they really want to find a daughter-in-law or a son-in-law. They are serious about it.”
Liu did not repel doubts and discussions. She thought that the show is produced to trigger conflicts. The intergenerational conceptual discrepancy exists in every era, and the rapidly changing social lifestyle in recent decades has widen the gap between Chinese parents and kids.
Young people pursue free love and spiritual independence, while their parents always hope their children can have a smooth and happy life. However, those parents never pay attention to the means and methods of communication, and they are so intent on passing over their life experience unreservedly to the kids.
The production team said that letting two generations face the most sensitive issue of marriage on the same stage is to create a platform for both sides to handle the conflicts with mutual respect and understanding. “In my opinion,” Liu said, “ultimately, it requires adjustment and compromise of both generations.”
“You can find that candidate whose family respect his or her choice enjoys a higher possibility of finding a match than others. This will exert an influence on other families, helping them to learn and to rectify their behaviors.” Liu believed that this kind of influence on the guests would also extend to parents and single people in front of TV. “For example, it affects how parents understand their kids, how young people communicate with their parents as well as their partner’s parents and how they improve themselves to be more welcomed marriage partners.”
The introduction of family involvement and the format adjustment made by Chinese Dating to optimize the dating results seem to accord with the original purpose of dating (i.e. matchmaking) and Chinese people’s understanding of marriage – the establishment of stable spousal relationship is a contract between two families, not the continuation of love. Thus, it is more advisable to find someone that meets the requirements of parents than going to a blind date.
Security, harmony, and compatibility may form a perfect marriage that much like love, but after all it is not love.