I would not want to be a young Chinese man born in the early 1980s. Although economic growth provides a number of opportunities and for a select few—those in possession of the right combination of ambition, ability, luck and connections—the chance of great fortune, a far greater number of young men feel the intense pressure this environment creates as they try to establish a carry and start a family. The first problem these young men face is competition for position after graduation. A visit to a career day and human resource fair in big (and even small cities) cities in China serve as a reminder that for its size America is a sparsely populated place. Once a university graduate secures a job the next challenge comes in accumulating the two most important goods that will help him find a spouse: a car and an apartment. These two purchases act as a signaling device: “Marry Me! Look at all the stuff I have” Here we arrive at the crux of the problem. During their first few years out of school, most university graduates will make, at most, 5,000 yuan a month, and even that is a bit high. Purchasing just one square meter of an apartment in a first-tier city like Beijing or Shanghai and even in many second and third-tier cities will often cost 20,000 yuan. A large chunk of that initial 5,000 yuan goes to rent, food, and other daily expenses. Many of these young people, both men and women, make up what is now known as the “Ant Tribe”-young university graduates living seven or eight to a room in tier-one cities while trying to squeak out an existence and save some money. All of this is to say nearly impossible for a young man to buy a house without significant help from his family. The race to buy a house and all the societal pressures around this goal are at the heart of a number of recent television shows. A program called Struggle (奋斗) launched this drama in 2007 and another, Narrow Dwellings (蜗居), from 2009 dealt directly with the struggle to find a house for a reasonable price. The latest and perhaps most popular addition to the genre, Naked Wedding (裸婚时代), aired this past summer and told the story of two young people who got married without a house, a car, or much financial stability. The show sparked a number of discussion on Chinese internet forums and entered the lexicon as people began to ask each other whether they would agree to a naked marriage, one without the material preconditions that some view as necessary. A new television program on CCTV 2, Opponent, 对手, devotes an entire fifty minute program to the naked wedding trend. The show itself has one of the most interesting formats of any program in China today. Airing only once a week, the show holds a debate between the two sides, blue and red, that try to convince and audience that their point of view is correct. After the conclusion of each round—there are usually three rounds in each program focusing on a different aspect of a general question—the studio audience casts votes to determine which side made the better points. What make the show particularly interesting, and almost shocking in some ways, is that the central themes of the show often center on important social issues like the new marriage law which are by any definition sensitive subjects. The form and structure of the show really allows for individual personalities to shine through. The program sounds like an argument taking place in a family living room, university dormitory or street corner. The guests get flustered and frustrated as they can feel themselves failing to defend their point of view and losing the support of the audience. The program is a lot like China itself: unruly but always interesting. This episode centers around three questions: What is the source of naked weddings—economic pressure or personal choice? Does a couple really need economic stability to get married? Will the rise of naked weddings lead to a corresponding drop in so-called utilitarian weddings where the pairing is more of a business relationship than a personal one? Interestingly, and most likely by design, three women argue that naked weddings are the result of economic pressure and hold that a couple does not necessarily need economic stability, and certainly not wealth, in order to get married. The men try to convince audience that naked weddings are more of a personal choice and not due to economic hardship and that a certain level of material stability is necessary for any marriage to last.
Key Vocab from First debate topic:
发育-to develop, to grow
自觉－conscious. In this case is mean’s on one’s own initiative
洒脱-to be relaxed
一不做二不休-once you start you can’t stop, in for a penny in for a pound
门当户对-social and economic position
Vocab from Second Debate Topic:
奔小康-to strive for a middle class life
吃亏－to get the worst out of a situation
诸葛亮－Reference to on of the main characters in the novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms known for his foresight.
预知-to predict or forecast
剩男，剩女-leftover men and leftover women. Used to describe a woman around the age of 30 who has not yet married. Men might be a little older when this phrase is used to describe them.
Vocab Third Debate Topic:
功利婚姻-a utilitarian marriage i.e marrying for money
貌合神离-appearing to get along on the surface but to actually have bad relations