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Chinese Matchmakers
of Tianjin & Taoyuan

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Hongniang introducing a shy maid to a worthy lad.

Sociologists and historians have been interested in the experience and implications of arranged marriages as against love marriages in China, but little attention has been paid to the task of marriage arrangement itself or to the lives and views of the marriage brokers, professional and amateur, who have undertaken this task.

We know that marriage brokers were morally necessary to most matches from remote antiquity, and were legally necessary from at least the Tang period.

Stereotypes of greedy and insensitive matchmakers haunt literary works and theatrical productions as well as folk songs and proverbs. And matchmakers' guidelines for successful marriages seem to have been proverbial at all periods. In modern literature, matchmakers figure as minor characters both in fiction and in autobiography. The most famous such figure is of course Hongniang, the enterprising chambermaid in The Romance of the Western Bower by Yuan dynasty writer Wang Shifu. The stories of in this novel have become standard repertoire in various Chinese theatrical traditions, and Hongniang's name has become the preferred modern euphemism for a matchmaker.

There is a continuous gradient between amateur matchmaking, in which a very large proportion of the population seems always to have engaged, and professional matchmakers, operating for money, and sometimes accomplishing a prodigious number of unions. A theoretical model can be constructed to accommodate this variation, and predictions from the model tend to be confirmed both by the sparse literature available on the subject and by interviews with modern matchmakers.

In this century Chinese have shifted from mostly arranged to mostly "love" marriages, but matchmakers are still asked to make introductions and to negotiate agreements. In Communist China matchmakers are routinely associated with work units, and large professional associations exist to facilitate the exchange of information among matchmakers.

Modern matchmakers were interviewed in Tianjin City in 1992, and an associated questionnaire asked both rural and urban married people about the matchmakers who had introduced them to their spouses. A closely similar questionnaire was administered to a matched group of rural and urban informants in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, at the end of 1996. This paper reports the results of that research.

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