To marry for money or for love, this old question is taking on new meaning for Chinese youth in today's consumption saturated culture. A post entitled "Will you marry your boyfriend with no house or car?" at the popular portal website Tianya forum, has triggered a hot debate.
Posted last October, there were more than 18,000 visitors to the site, and more than 500 replies in just a couple of days. "It's a catch-22. If you're marrying for money, you feel like you're selling yourself. If you walk into a marriage for love, in five or 10 years, you will realize that love doesn't pay your house mortgage, your phone, gas, or electricity bills," says Marsha Zhao, a communication officer for a foreign company in Beijing.
The newly-married Zhao swears her marriage is a result of pure love.
"Think about this," she says. "My husband has less of everything than I do. In education, he holds a bachelor's, I have a master's. He makes much less money than I do, and he doesn't even have a permanent residence card for Beijing. You know how much your parents care about that!"
Earning 100,000 yuan (12,500 U.S. dollars) a year, 50 percent more than most of her peers working as newspaper reporters, the 25-year-old says buying a house or having a baby is not a priority on their agenda.
"We want our own apartment but the prices are outrageous. We just cannot afford one." The young couple now live in an apartment provided by Zhao's parents.
This love match aside, a recent online survey conducted by the Beijing-based China Youth Daily survey center indicates that marriage does have a price.
According to Fang Yihan, an editor at the survey center, 58.8 percent of men and 51.6 percent of women believe there is a "starting price" in marriage.
Among the 10,050 female respondents, 47.4 percent thought it's OK for a man to have no car, but not OK to have no house when it comes to marriage, while 39.3 percent of the 8,962 male respondents agreed. Meanwhile, 7 percent women said they wouldn't consider marrying someone with no house or car, and 11 percent men said they wouldn't propose to their girl friends if they had no car or house.
A typical representation of one side of the views said, "I'd rather weep inside a car instead of smiling from the back seat of a bicycle."
Olivia Jiang, 25, is still looking for her Mr Right. By Mr Right, she means a perfect combination of love and wealth.
"I don't really care if he has a house or a car, but he must have money. No matter how deeply you love each other," she says, "the marriage would sooner or later be ruined by financial difficulties."
Working for an international consulting company in the capital, Jiang finds her monthly salary of 7,000 yuan (875 dollars) can hardly meet her needs. She wants to buy a pair of her dream shoes, but she will have to wait until the shoes are on sale. "Even so, they will still cost more than 1,000 yuan (125 dollars)," Jiang says.
For Jiang, her ideal husband would be one making at least 100,000 yuan (12,500 dollars) a month. Then they wouldn't have to worry about a mortgage, a car, or the cost of raising a child when starting a family.
Some would argue that today's youth, women in particular, are too driven by material wealth, and thus seem mercenary.
But Wu Ran, a stage director, thinks it is normal and legitimate for a woman to want to marry a man having a house and a car. "You don't have to own a villa and a BMW," Wu says, "but a car or a house shows a man's stable status."
The stage drama, D Style Life, which Wu directed recently, shows a young man who bought an apartment in an upscale community and who secretly works two jobs in order to pay off the mortgage.
He doesn't tell his girlfriend the truth for fear that she would leave him once she finds out that he is not the wealthy man she wanted. "So many girls are like that in real life," says Wu, adding "for me it's absolutely a must to have a house and a car before I marry the girl I love. I want to provide a stable life for her."
Wu points out that those who marry for love rather than money are investing their youth in the husband. Basically, they are no different from those wanting to marry money.
In this regard, to a woman, being mercenary doesn't mean selling out for money, but just being your own best friend.
Unlike a love relationship, a marriage involves two kinds of social relations: material and ideological. Therefore, "it is necessary and natural to have material demands when it comes to marriage," says Wang Wei, deputy director of the Beijing Marriage & Family Institute.
In fact, material desires always exist, varying in different social groups and different times, he says.
Take the period of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), a most ideological and fanatic time. Many women looked for future husbands with good political backgrounds, ones that had a bicycle, a watch, a sewing machine, and a radio as the preconditions for marriage.
Back then, one needed commodity ration coupons to buy these items, thus making them a symbol of power.
Things have changed. "You cannot expect your children not to be materially minded when society is full of advertising, and the "no-free-lunch" philosophy has infiltrated our social life," says Li Dun, sociologist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Last November, Shanghai, reputed as China's most material city, ran its first exclusive "Love Boat" party on "Captain One" cruise to hook up local millionaires with rich and pretty women.
The cost to attend was 28,000 yuan (3,500 dollars) for the chance to find a dream partner. The meeting party required male participants to have assets worth at least 2 million yuan (250,000 dollars). The women were expected to be "pretty and desirable."
"I don't see anything wrong with that. It's a fair game, men and women get what they look for. Really, nothing is free. The wedding ceremony alone can cost you thousands dollars," says Ms Yang.
In her 30s, she is looking for a man who drives a Porsche. Indeed, the latest figures from the Shanghai Wedding Service Industry Association suggested that the average wedding spending in Shanghai hit 187,000 yuan (23,375 dollars) in 2006, 271 times of that in the 1970s.
The most money is spent on apartment decoration, brand name products, and the honeymoon. That spending certainly amazed Zou Junyuan of Changsha, capital of Central China's Hunan Province.
Zou, 76, still remembers her wedding ceremony "was very simple".
"We stood in front of Chairman Mao's portrait, exchanging vows before relatives and the invited friends and relative. Our major spending was our bed, sheets, and other living necessities."
Though it seems to be common sense that money won't guarantee happiness, Bi Jinyi, a divorce lawyer and marriage & relationship consultant in Beijing noticed that most of the divorce cases she has handled "are related to financial problems".