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The Marriage Law of 1950 guarantees everyone the freedom to
choose his or her marriage partner. Nevertheless, especially in the
countryside, there are few opportunities to meet potential mates.
Rural China offers little privacy for courtship, and in villages
there is little public tolerance for flirting or even extended
conversation between unmarried men and women. Introductions and gobetweens continue to play a major role in the arrangement of
marriages. In most cases each of the young people, and their
parents, has an effective veto over any proposed match.
In the past, marriage was seen as the concern of families as
well as of the two parties to the match. Families united by
marriage were expected to be of equivalent status, or the groom's
family to be of somewhat higher status. This aspect of marriage
patterns has continued while the definitions of status have
changed. Because inherited wealth has been eliminated as a
significant factor, evaluation has shifted to estimates of earning
power and future prosperity. The most desirable husbands have been
administrative cadres, party members, and employees of large state
enterprises. Conversely, men from poor villages have had difficulty
finding wives. From the early 1950s to the late 1970s, when
hereditary class labels were very significant, anyone with a
"counterrevolutionary" background, that is, anyone previously
identified with the landlord or even rich peasant class, was a bad
prospect for marriage. Such pariahs often had no choice but to
marry the offspring of other families with "bad" class backgrounds.
At the other end of the social scale, there appears to be a high
level of intermarriage among the children of high-level cadres.
Data as of July 1987