Marriage prerequisites – virginity, house, fidelity


This is the Thinking China Digest, a weekly roundup of recent essays and articles published on the Chinese web, with links to translations on the Marco Polo Project.

This week’s post is looking at marriage and relationships in contemporary China. An article by sociologist Li Yinhe explores the ongoing attachment to pre-marital virginity; two more personal pieces explore the question of fidelity and the distorted relationship between real estate and marriage prospects. All three reveal an ongoing tension among younger Chinese people between traditional values and aspirations to more personal freedom and emotional fulfillment

Chinese people and virginity
By Li Yinhe, 04 September 2012
Li Yinhe is one of China’s most famous sociologists, and specializes in questions of gender and sexuality. This text published on is a reflection about premarital virginity in today’s China. A series of recent phenomena reveal ongoing attachment to virginity: online groups of women promoting chastity, hymen reconstruction surgery ads, or a survey showing that 80% of rural women value virginity more than life.
Pre-marital virginity was of extreme important in traditional China, but this is now changing, for four reasons. Family planning shifted the purpose of sex from reproduction to pleasure. Women marry later, and puberty starts earlier, so sexual activity will take place in that intermediary period. Relationship to the body changed, and people now think of their body more as an instrument for achieving personal satisfaction. Feminism and gender equality make double standards of sexual ethics for men and women increasingly hard to sustain. Rather than nostalgically protecting the fading custom of pre-marital virginity, Li Yinhe therefore appeals the public to tolerate and even embrace new social norms.

Marco Polo translation: Chinese people and virginity
Original link: 论中国人的处女情结

Love and housing in China
By Wu Di, 16 August 2012
When he came back home, he had a strange feeling. Empty cupboards in the bedroom confirmed his suspicions: his girlfriend had moved out.
This post is a personal reflection on young Chinese women’s demands before marriage: house ownership is a must. When their relationship started, the author of this post had promised his new girl-friend that he could afford an apartment; but ever increasing Beijing real estate prices made his promise impossible to keep. As a compromise, she proposed that he go back to his family and ask for the family home – then they would sign a marriage contract. He didn’t have the courage to fight with his brother or worry his parents on her account, and so she left.
Surveys show that “steady income” and “owning a house” are among the top criteria to make a man eligible for marriage. As this text reveals, such expectations mean that the current real estate frenzy not only impacts on people’s economic situation, but also their emotional life and marriage prospects.

Marco Polo translation: Love and housing in Chinay
Original link: 中国人的房子和爱情

Spiritual infidelity
Anonymous, published on ShuDong 04 July 2012
ShuDong is a website where users leave anonymous confessions about issues in their personal life, giving the reader a direct insight into the ways values and emotions are perceived and articulated.
After ten years of marriage, the author of this post has become estranged from his wife; early fights have reduced their interactions, and he no longer shares anything with her. When he bumps into the woman he loved as a teenager, he discovers a large number of points in common, and a sense of tacit understanding – they develop a ‘spiritual’ affair, and fall in love again. But the author says he doesn’t know what the right thing is to do – respect his family duties, or pursue his own happiness, and asks for advice on the site.
The comments section shows a certain variety of responses, but the dominant theme is – don’t leave your wife – after ten years, you will feel the same sense of estrangement towards your new love – be calm and wait – do not betray your family.

Marco Polo translation: Spiritual infidelity
Original link: 精神出轨

All articles in this digest and a large range of other Chinese readings are accessible at Some are available in English, French and Spanish translation. (You can join the project if you’d like to help with translations.)

Danwei is an affiliate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University. This posting is a result of one project that is part of that on-going collaboration.

China Heritage Quarterly and East Asian History are two other publications supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World.

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