Geng Haiying, a Christian film maker, recently released a documentary that highlights the problem of “forced marriages” in Chinese society today. Through discussion and analysis with Geng, this article from China Christian Daily describes the incredible pressure singles face to get married in Chinese culture, even among Christians.
Christian Director Analyzes Phenomenon of Forced Marriage During Spring Festival
According to the magazine China Philanthropist, “forced marriage” is probably a new challenge added to the “three new big mountains” (housing, medicine, and education pressure) of today’s younger generation.
These parents have racked their brains to get their children married as soon as possible. A new term called “Chinese forced marriage” appeared on Baidu Encyclopedia [see Baidu entry here], defined as “the use of threats and violence by parents to force their children into marriage.”
More than 70 percent of adults have been forced to get married by their parents, and 86 percent of those between 25 and 35 years old who are single are under the greatest pressure, according to a survey by the Health and Sports Developmental Center of the Working Committee for the Care of the Next Generation.
Among these people, there are many single Christians, one of whom is documentary director, Geng Haiyang. He started inadvertently and then spent 10 years recording his aging parents’ compulsory annual Spring Festival program—marriage pressure. Shortly after the end of the 2021 Spring Festival, he publicly shared his autobiographical documentary Flight of the Honeybees, which focuses on forced marriage.
Recently, Christian Times, a Chinese Christian newspaper, invited Geng to share his observations and analysis on the phenomenon of forced marriage during the Spring Festival, which is unique to China.
When it comes to forced marriage that has become a hot spot, a point of difficulty, and pain in this era, Brother Geng believes that this kind of pressure is common to both Christians and non-Christians, and that it is a very widespread phenomenon.
“I think these people are divided into urban and rural categories. Because some urban parents are relatively liberal, older urban unmarried young people are likely to face less pressure from their families to get married. But older unmarried young people in rural areas face greater pressure to get married,” Geng said. “Parents tend to have traditional views and knowledge about marriage. They often compare their views with peers around them or in their hometowns. On the other hand, they do believe that getting married and having children is a task that everyone should experience and accomplish. They believe that certain things have to be done as soon as one clocks a certain age.”
At the same time, he found that there are a growing number of older single people in the church, including those in their 30s and 40s and even those in their 50s who have never been married.
In this regard, he analyzed two main reasons, “First, people’s standards have risen, and a spiritual standard has been added to the secular standard; also, the ratio of men to women in the church is unbalanced. Most of the sisters are highly educated and financially independent, and the number of brothers is relatively small. Some brothers are relatively uneducated, such as junior high school or senior high school graduates who are delivery men, Didi drivers, senior cooks at canteens, hairdressers, etc. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to match people; spiritual communication is difficult.”
“Secondly, everyone is immersed in the widespread nature of the Internet, including online, offline platforms, especially the ones online, like WeChat groups and so on; without really having a deeper understanding of a person, many people are in the state of fleeting observation, and some people enjoy this feeling. Two people who are seriously considering marriage need more contact and need to get along. However, people today lack the opportunity to contact each other, many people are indoors, many people have social phobia, and lack opportunities to meet and discover each other’s strengths.”
He claimed that the hardest thing about forced marriage was that it was hard to talk to your parents, you could only listen.
Over the past decade, Geng had faced constant pressure from his parents to get married, which caused him to suffer a great deal of anguish. In the face of forced marriage, he surmised many people were miserable.
“When I came home for the Spring Festival once a year, my parents started talking about it as soon as I walked in the door. After a few words, I felt very uncomfortable. That kind of aggressive feeling made me want to turn away. I didn’t want to stay in the house,” he shared.
“Even if you tell your parents that you will take marriage to heart, they will still not feel okay about it. They would mention that all my classmates and playmates they knew were married, while I am still single. However, I think these people have no reference point because everyone’s situation and life direction are different. Marriage is conformity, but each individual is a special case.” Geng shared the difficulty of communicating with his parents. “I tried to communicate with them and tell them, ‘Don’t pay attention to other people, just pay attention to me. Because you don’t know what I’m doing now, and you can’t know what’s going on in my heart. You don’t know what I have encountered in the city, my work, and my life.’ But they still don’t understand, they don’t understand.”
“In front of my parents, I listened most of the time without many refutations,” he said helplessly. “Even then, my whole body became numb. I wanted to put the forced marriage thing behind me and put an end to it, so I ended shooting and edited the film Flight of the Honeybees.“
The profound reason behind forced marriage during the Spring Festival was rapid urbanization, he added.
In the documentary, Geng, in addition to forced marriage, focused on the hometown where he was born and grew up. He also recorded the local conditions and customs of many rural societies, trying to show the real “rural China” in this era, from his perspective.
“It has been twenty years since I left my hometown. A lot of rural ideas cannot be accepted, or at least integrated, but can only serve as a bystander.” He said, “Currently, with the development of society, more and more people come from the countryside to the cities. Most of us have an interlaced feeling of ‘the hometown we can’t go back to’ and ‘the city we can’t stay in.’ Because the vast majority of people have moved from the countryside to the cities, they live a relatively modest life. After decades of struggle, one may not be able to get ahead.”
He shared that behind the phenomenon of forced marriage during the Spring Festival, he now pays more attention to the topics of “rural China,” “the process of urbanization,” “the changes of urban and rural society,” especially the societal problems of “left-behind old people” and “left-behind children,” which are prominent societal problems in the process of urbanization.
He added, “Urbanization is happening too fast and is doing more harm than good to the rural areas.” Brother Geng listed two points: “Firstly, the mentality of the rural people becomes too impetuous and they want to accumulate wealth quickly, which makes them more and more utilitarian. Secondly, there are many left-behind children and elderly people, and the divorce rate is also high.”
“The process of urbanization has also created a serious problem of betrothal gifts in rural areas. I read a news report that some people who get married in some places have to buy a house and a car in the city, plus an additional bride price of at least 1.8 million yuan, which is a lot of money for people in the rural areas.” He went on to add, “The move of factories from cities to rural areas also causes pollution. Traffic jams have also become very serious in rural areas, not to mention the household registration system, keeping up with the Joneses (peer pressure), contradictions between families and so on. The issues cannot be listed one by one.”
From rural China and urbanization to a conversation about forced marriage and the generation of our parents, Geng said: “Many people have affection for their hometown, but it only lasts during childhood. Feelings for parents need to cross one another’s personal boundaries to have a better conversation with them.”
During the years of forced marriage, Geng agonized over his understanding of marriage. He advised older, single Christians to have a proper understanding of who they are when it came to marriage.
“Figure out who you are and what’s right for you. If both personalities, interests, hobbies, etc., are similar, and of the same category, they can get talking. The other category is complementary, to make up for each other’s defects, and achieve success together.”
He went on to share his thoughts on marriage, “My understanding of marriage is that two people grow and move forward together. From one point of view, one person is in many ways not as good as two people growing together in God because it is difficult for one person to discover his problems. The purpose of marriage is to fulfill God’s plan for you to become complete as a son, husband, or father, or daughter, wife, or mother, so that he or she will be more complete, just like the heavenly Father who loves us. Two people in a marriage will be in harmony, remind each other, and help each other to move forward, only then can it be God’s definition of a happy marriage.”
Brother Geng mentioned that over the years, he had seen many pastors in the church give advice like, “Wait patiently for God.” Some of the obedient sisters did not get married until they were over 40 years old. Some of the brothers and sisters in the church even left the church because they could not find a suitable Christian to marry.
He acknowledged that some pastors of the church were concerned about the marriage of brothers and sisters, but that was of little effect. “There are pastors in some churches who are concerned about brothers and sisters getting married, and there are pastors who organize fellowship activities across churches. However, we do not think that there is so much to gain.”
He urged the church to be more proactive in helping single Christians. “I think the pastors of the church should not be too conservative in their approach to marriage but should pay special attention to these people and see to their needs so that they can get married,” he said. “The church can organize more activities and create opportunities for people to get to know each other under the supervision of the pastor,” he suggested. “In such matters, the church pastors need to pay more attention, because the pastors can help and guide people to have a correct view of marriage.”
Original Article: Exclusive Interview: Christian Director Analyzes Phonemenon of Forced Marriage During Spring Festivalby China Christian Daily
Edited and reposted with permission.
Editor’s note (April 21, 2021): The Flight of the Honeybees is currently available for viewing on Bilibili, a Chinese video-sharing website based in Shanghai.
Header image credit: Flight of the Honeybees trailer via China Christian Daily.
Text image credit: Screenshot of Flight of the Honeybees (Geng Haiyang) via China Christian Daily.
Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.