What Is Different About Dating in China?

What to Expect When It Comes to Sex, Marriage, and Parents

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Joe Mabel

As you may expect, dating is a little bit different in China than it is in most Western countries. The basics are the same—people are people everywhere—but there are still a few differences regarding culture and social cues to note. 

The Beginning of a Relationship

Because of China’s rigorous college entrance examination, dating is rarely tolerated among high school students. They simply have too much work to do.

That doesn’t mean that Chinese teens don’t have high school crushes or even relationships (mostly secret ones). But in general, Chinese students leave high school with a lot less romantic experience than their American counterparts. For a lot of Chinese people, serious dating starts after they’ve finished school.

Pragmatic Purposes

More so than Westerners, many Chinese view dating as a pragmatic affair. It’s not always about finding love so much as it is about finding a potential marriage partner who fits with one’s own ideals. For example, although many men get married without a house and a car, Chinese women will often say that they’re looking for these things because that’s the sort of person who probably has a stable career and will be able to provide for her and their future children in the long-term. It’s not always about love. As one contestant on China’s most popular dating show put it, "I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle."

Parental Involvement

Every parent is different, of course, but in general Chinese parents expect to be more involved in their children’s relationships. It’s not uncommon for parents and grandparents to set their children up on blind dates with suitable matches they’ve found.

If their child’s significant other doesn’t meet with the parents’ approval, continuing the relationship will be very difficult.

That’s why if you’re dating someone who is Chinese, it’s very important you make a good first impression with the parents!

Sex

In general, sex before marriage in China is less common and considered more serious than it is in many Western cultures. Attitudes toward sex are changing, especially in more cosmopolitan cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but in general, many Chinese women see sex as a sign that a relationship is headed towards marriage. Additionally, many Chinese men say they would prefer to marry a woman who hasn’t had premarital sex.

Marriage

The ultimate goal of most relationships in China is marriage. Young Chinese adults are often under a lot of pressure from the elders in their family to find a good husband or wife and get married relatively early.

This pressure is particularly acute for women, who can be called “left-over women” if they pass the age of 26 or 27 without finding a husband. Men can find themselves similarly left-over if they wait too long to get married.

This is a big part of why dating is often taken so seriously. Chinese young people often feel like they don’t have the time to “play the field” that their Western counterparts are afforded by society.

Expectations

The actual experience of dating in China can also be somewhat different.

For example, you’ll often see Chinese couples wearing matching outfits, which is almost unheard of in the West. Many Chinese couples do not share the Western expectation that two people dating will maintain their own separate social lives and friend circles.

Chinese couples also sometimes refer to each other as “husband” (老公) and “wife” (老婆) even when they’re not actually married—another indicator of the serious implications dating in China.

Of course, these are all just generalizations, and they don’t apply to all Chinese people. More than tradition, society, or culture, dating in China is governed by what the specific individuals in the relationship think and feel, and it’s not too hard to find Chinese couples that don’t fit all or even any of the general observations above.