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    Chinese University Streamlines Student Marriages, Sparks Debate

    The university offered students priority access for marriage registrations on May 20, a date known for its phonetic resemblance to “I love you” in Chinese.

    A prominent Chinese university’s announcement to help facilitate the process of getting married for its students earlier this week has sparked widespread debate across social media on whether young individuals should be tying the knot while in college. 

    The Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) unveiled its initiative to provide priority access for marriage registration specifically on May 20. The date, “520,” is phonetically similar to the Chinese expression for “I love you,” and is popular for marriage registration among China’s young. 

    The university said the service was open to all students and that 15 newlyweds signed up for the “green channel.” A member of staff at the university coordinating the service told domestic outlet Jimu News that this was the first such initiative for a university in the country. 

    The university also held a special group wedding for newly married doctoral students on Sunday.

    Soon after the move was announced, a related hashtag on the microblogging platform Weibo garnered more than 150 million views. While some criticized an initiative promoting marriage while at college, others said it was a personal decision. 

    “Marriage is a serious decision that should not be promoted, but rather approached with careful consideration and when the conditions are right,” wrote one user. “Perhaps the concern is that, like us, once individuals enter society, they may be less inclined to get married,” quipped another.

    But several also supported the decision. “It is a personal choice, and the university is simply providing a service for students … catering to those who wish to get married. The university is not imposing any obligation or mandate,” said one netizen.

    Incidentally, amidst the discussions surrounding the university’s initiative, a video featuring a college student sharing her experiences of balancing school life and raising a child has gone viral. The video further fueled the ongoing debate about whether marriages while at college should be encouraged.

    Amid an aging population and a declining birth rate, China saw its marriage rate plunge to record lows in 2021, with only 11.58 million people tying the knot for the first time that year, the lowest figure since 1985. 

    Moreover, the average age for a first-time marriage increased from 24.9 years old in 2010 to 28.7 years old in 2020, according to the latest national population census.

    A 2022 marriage survey by state media China Youth Daily showed that only 0.48% of surveyed university students were married, and nearly 74% remained single.

    But despite the furore on social media, the numbers show that the university’s move helped little. According to domestic media, the number of marriage registrations on May 20 in many provinces, such as Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Fujian, saw a 40-50% decline compared to last year.

    Recently, experts have called for fostering a more friendly environment to facilitate marriage and child-bearing for college students, particularly postgraduates and doctoral students. 

    He Dan, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), proposed a raft of measures to tackle such issues, ranging from the inclusion of university students in the national maternity scheme to a more flexible educational system at this year’s “Two Session” — the country’s top legislative meeting.

    Editor: Apurva.  

    (Header image: A group wedding at Harbin Institute of Technology in Heilongjiang, Harbin, June 2, 2018. VCG)