A new hit dating show in China decided to let parents choose partners for their kids.
The first episode of the weekly show Chinese Dating aired on Christmas Eve. And it’s hard to watch if you’re a woman. The parents on the show grilled bachelorettes with questions like “Can you do housework?” They also brutally rejected a 40-year-old divorcee and single mom. (In China, divorced women are often considered damaged goods.)
Some critics called the show a revival of outdated arranged marriages (link in Chinese). Many say it reflects the “Giant Infant” culture described by psychologist Wu Zhihong in her acclaimed book The Giant Baby Nation, which examines psychological problems in modern China caused by collectivism and blind filial piety.
On the other hand, the show also seems to be somewhat progressive. It featured two successful female entrepreneurs out of the three bachelorettes. And it’s hosted by China’s favorite openly transgender hostess.
In a way, this wacky and cringeworthy show illustrates modern China’s divided values towards relationship and gender.
The 40-year-old divorcee’s story is an example of the tensions between two divided generations. One is stuck in conservative values (parents wanting virgins and baby makers), and another has become more open-minded (like the 23-year-old guy who wanted to defy his mother and choose the 40-year-old divorcee.)
Some viewers have criticized the show for being overly dramatic and suspect it is scripted, which the producer denied in several interviews.
As a Chinese woman who myself has grown up in this divided time—caught in between conservative and progressive China—I found the show almost too real to the point that it’s painful to watch. The dichotomy reflected in the show plays out in my real life. My family sent me abroad to study and encourages me to be an independent woman. But on Christmas Eve when I texted my aunt “Merry Christmas,” her first response was, “Do you need help finding a boyfriend?”