Across a magpie bridge

BEIJING: "My daughter is a hardworking employee in a foreign firm. As the years go by, she's still all by herself,'' said Ms. He, mother of a 29-year-old, growing more anxious each day for her daughter's marriage. "But she doesn't seem to mind being alone!"

Marriages in China were usually arranged by parents, before the New China was founded in 1949. Unexpectedly, parents are working to revive the old tradition for their children who have no time to date, especially the well-educated and highly paid ones.

Recently, Ms. He joined hundreds of other parents at the Zhongshan (Sun Yat-Sen) Park, near Tiananmen Square, looking for Mr. Right for her only daughter.

"About 1,000 parents gathered there over the weekend," said Ms. Gu, an organiser, on Wednesday.

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, which runs about a month behind the Gregorian calendar, Valentine's Day in China also fell on this day. The "Qixi [7th of July] Festival" celebrates a legend from more than 2,500 years ago about the love between a cowboy and his fairy maid. Legend has it that the couple met once a year on the bridge across the Milky Way built by magpies. Parents like Ms. He were determined to lead their children to an ideal mate across a "magpie bridge."

Ms. He has been to previous gatherings, but found very few choices. Like other experienced parents, she does not hesitate to reel off the FAQs: Is your child a boy or a girl? If the answer was "boy," it would be followed by questions such as how old he was, and how he looked.

The parents of an over-30 "bachelor" with a doctorate degree travelled several hundred kilometres from northeast China to Beijing for the gathering. "We are looking forward to a nice looking girl with a college education and over 160 cm tall."

But are these what their daughters and sons really want?

Ms. He's daughter got to know a few nice gentlemen through work, but none "seemed to fit."

"I'm looking for a man who makes me feel right," the daughter said over the phone. "If my parents try to decide the future for me, I may not feel happy or independent."

Many young people in China believe in serendipity, or "Yuanfen" as they call it. But many put their education or careers before marriage.

Though a civil servant who is 29, understood that his parents were worried, he said, "I don't think deciding a wife for me is a good idea."

Many daughters and sons go on arranged "dates" in order not to hurt their parents' feelings.

Only in rare cases do dates set by parents work out, but the enthusiasm of the parents remains.

Last month, in Hangzhou, 2,000 parents gathered to exchange information about their children. Some parents had specific needs. Ensuring astrologically compatible birth dates for a prospective couple is sometimes a concern. — Xinhua