Subscribe to our newsletter

     By signing up, you agree to our Terms Of Use.


    • About Us
    • |
    • Contribute
    • |
    • Contact Us
    • |
    • Sitemap

    Break From Tradition: More Men Seeking Matrilocal Marriages

    In Hangzhou, men are clamoring to find families in need of a ‘live-in son-in-law’ to escape the financial and emotional pressures of China’s traditional marriage market.

    Veteran matchmaker Li Jiyan looks at the two 20-something men sitting across from him with a pained expression. After introducing more than 1,000 couples, Li knows a good prospect for a zhuixu, or matrilocal son-in-law, when he sees one. Neither of these men stand a chance.

    “For you, it’ll be impossible to find a woman from a family with a company and assets of around 30 million yuan ($4.14 million),” he tells them bluntly after listening to the men’s long list of requirements. “Perhaps I can try to introduce you to families with more than 10 million yuan in assets and two or three houses.”

    For the past 30 years, Li has specialized in finding candidates for matrilocal marriages, defined as when the couple lives with or near the wife’s parents, and their children take her family name. This runs counter to the traditional system in China, where a woman typically becomes part of her husband’s family, but it has steadily become more common in recent decades.

    For a man, a matrilocal marriage provides an opportunity to marry a woman with a strong financial background without having to first buy a house or car or pay a “bride price.” In fact, he might even receive a betrothal gift. In the event of a divorce, he also stands to receive a considerable share of the family’s assets, as long as he remains faithful to his wife and takes on childcare duties.

    “Our situations aren’t bad, but we want to find partners in an even better position,” as it would mean “fewer years of struggle,” one of the men tells Li, whose agency is based in Hangzhou, capital of the eastern Zhejiang province. In China’s traditional marriage market, the pair would be considered decent candidates: Both are from the eastern Shandong province and worked at major internet companies in Beijing before resettling in Hangzhou’s affluent Xiaoshan District; one is an entrepreneur, and the other is a department head at a mid-sized enterprise. However, the standards in Xiaoshan for a matrilocal son-in-law are extremely high.

    According to Li, women here — or, more importantly, their families — want educated, healthy, “faultless” men. As a result, candidates signing up with his agency need to provide their financial information, including credit reports, as well as pass a criminal background check and a health examination. (Li generally turns away men who appear physically weak, and some have even done push-ups on the spot to boost their prospects.) On top of these basic requirements, clients also will have particular demands. For example, one family rejected a man who graduated from the prestigious Peking University because he had a tattoo.

    Men with administrative jobs in the state sector are the most popular, according to Li. He says that it’s also a plus if the man regularly donates blood or engages in charity work. The least popular professions are lawyers, salesmen, bodyguards, models, fitness trainers, drivers for ride-hailing apps, and couriers.

    “The number of people wanting to be matrilocal sons-in-law increases every year,” Li says as the two men from Shandong leave his office, their slumped shoulders betraying their disappointment. The six phones on Li’s desk have been ringing nonstop.

    Li’s matchmaking agency is located on the fourth floor of an old office building. Its hallway is filled with banners carrying slogans about “gender equality” in the marriage market and defying tradition. The company has on its books more than 170 families and over 50 men seeking matrilocal marriages.

    Most families are looking for candidates aged 25 to 30. However, the agency often receives inquiries from university students seeking a shortcut to social mobility. Li can understand why. “It’s difficult enough for graduates to find a decent job, let alone purchase a property right after graduation,” he says, explaining that house prices in Xiaoshan are around 30,000 yuan a square meter. “If a man doesn’t own a property, he has almost no chance in the marriage market.”

    A third-year college student from a rural area of the central Hubei province told the agency he wanted to be a matrilocal son-in-law because his family had been plunged into debt when his older brother married, and he was anxious about the future. Li told him that, at 21, he was just too young.

    “Aren’t they embarrassed to want to latch onto a rich woman at such a young age?” asks Li, adding that he accepts only candidates with the right attitude and rejects all those with “obvious financial objectives.”

    Family ties

    The ancient Wansong Academy, on the south bank of Hangzhou’s West Lake, is partially known for the “Butterfly Lovers,” a classic folktale about the tragic romance between classmates Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. In addition to attracting tourists, on Saturday mornings, the site is packed with matchmakers, singletons, and their relatives, many of whom are seeking to arrange matrilocal marriages.

    Walls are dotted with the resumes and requirements of prospective candidates. One typical example reads: “Architect, born in 1994, sunny demeanor and handsome, 108-square-meter house in Xiaoshan, land in Northeast China. Looking for a woman who owns a property. Childless divorcees will also be considered.” Few men express any requirements for the woman’s height, appearance, or education.

    Among the parents at the matchmaking corner one Saturday is Lin Zuwen, who has long insisted on a matrilocal marriage for his 28-year-old daughter to ensure the family line. He and his wife are Xiaoshan natives who run a mechanical processing factory with assets of 70 million yuan. They own three properties and four cars, one of which cost 3.8 million yuan. “By Xiaoshan’s standards, we’re considered average,” he says.

    Li’s marriage agency has matched his family with three candidates since his daughter graduated from university. None of the men were suitable, Lin says, either because they had an attitude or unreasonable requirements, such as demanding to become a stay-at-home husband. “We do want to ease their housing burden, but we still hope that husband and wife can go through life’s struggles together. What if our family business goes downhill one day?”

    In recent years, Lin has lowered his expectations to accept candidates with only an undergraduate degree, but it must be from a top university. “What I want are excellent genes,” he says. “After all, this will impact the future intelligence of the children.”

    The trend of matrilocal marriages in Xiaoshan can actually be traced back to the 1970s, when relatively well-off rural families with only daughters would seek a “live-in” son-in-law to increase their income through the work point system for collectivized farming, as men earned far more points than women. Later, as China accelerated its urbanization efforts, matrilocality became a factor in the compensation families would receive if their rural home was demolished.

    “A matrilocal son-in-law can receive a 70-square-meter property if his wife’s family home is demolished. If they have a child, they can get an additional 140 square meters,” says Chen Guoqiang, a Xiaoshan native with two daughters. Based on today’s property prices, he estimates that works out at 6.3 million yuan in compensation.

    Under the rules, families are limited to one matrilocal son-in-law. In Chen’s family, this responsibility has fallen to his eldest daughter. However, despite dates with at least six men, she’s still looking. “Some were greasy, some were bald. There was one who was fine except for being too thin and weak; he didn’t look capable of giving us a grandchild,” complains Chen. Other candidates rejected the idea, citing a “loss of face back home” and “being ashamed to face one’s ancestors.”

    Don’t look back

    Gu Shunze does not feel like he’s let down his ancestors. The second of four sons, Gu was born to a farming family in the south of the northern Hebei province and graduated from an elite Chinese university. Today, the 26-year-old works as an administrative law enforcement officer in Hangzhou.

    Despite having a stable income, buying a property or a car was still beyond Gu’s reach when he first arrived in the city. However, in early 2022, he discovered the possibility of becoming a matrilocal son-in-law. His parents had no objection, so he handed over copies of his ID card, degree certificate, and work certificate to Li’s marriage agency in Xiaoshan. Soon, he had a match: A hospital finance officer whose family had an auto parts business, two properties, and more than 30 million yuan in savings. They dated for three months before the woman proposed marriage, and Gu accepted.

    His in-laws-to-be gave Gu a betrothal gift of 288,000 yuan, all but 10,000 yuan of which he returned to the family. This money was then used to book a photoshoot, buy the rings and dresses, and cover other expenses. The bride’s family arranged everything. At the wedding banquet, the groom’s guests consisted of only his colleagues, barely enough to fill one table.

    The newlyweds moved into a three-bedroom property, and Gu’s father-in-law gifted him a BMW 3 series. He says he feels relaxed and content, often helping out in the family business and taking his wife and her parents on weekend trips. In January, his wife gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, with both taking their mother’s family name, in line with the couple’s prenuptial agreement.

    Since getting married, Gu has not returned to his hometown, and his parents have only seen their grandchildren in photographs. He no longer feels any connection with Hebei. “As long as I have a positive mindset and don’t feel like I am desperately living off a woman, then I can live a good life,” he says.

    Not every marriage is a success story, of course. In August 2006, the Zhejiang Legal Daily reported that the Xiaoshan District Court had heard 20 divorce cases involving matrilocal marriages the previous year, with the majority initiated by the woman. The most common cause was a clash of personalities, followed by gambling or adultery. One judge commented that, in divorces like this, the matrilocal son-in-law has little to no status due to their reliance on their wife’s support.

    ‘Heart hunters’

    Li has been involved in matchmaking since the 1980s. Initially, it was a hobby he indulged in during his spare time while working at an industrial company, but he’d had some success. When he and his wife officially retired in 1998, they decided to open a marriage agency, the first ever recorded in Xiaoshan.

    At the start, they were a two-person operation, focusing on the traditional practice of finding women looking to marry into a man’s family, charging 200 yuan a time. “Back then, we’d only match seven or eight couples involving matrilocal marriage in a year, as demand wasn’t that high,” Li says. Requirements were lower, too — the men just needed to be in good health and have a secondary or tertiary education; everything else was negotiable.

    The business enjoyed a lift in the early 2000s after a local newspaper published a report about its specialization in matrilocal marriages. Another boost came in 2021 with the release of “Zhuixu,” a TV show about a live-in son-in-law, which proved so popular Li was able to increase his fee to 30,000 yuan for each successful pairing.

    Li now employs three retirees as “heart hunters,” who visit various communities every day to seek out suitable single people and persuade them to sign up with the agency. Li says most people can find a match within a year, and if they don’t, it’s usually because their standards are too high. “For instance, a woman with a Ph.D. insisted we find her a strong, handsome civil servant who also had a Ph.D. and was over 180 centimeters tall,” he says, adding that she was essentially looking for a unicorn.

    For the couples he does bring together, Li rarely shares in their celebrations. Once, a client did invite him to their wedding banquet, but they hid him away in a corner. “I have somewhat of a reputation in Xiaoshan, and the hosts must have been afraid that someone would recognize me and think that the family had spent money to find a matrilocal son-in-law, which could have been embarrassing,” he says. Now, whenever he’s invited to a wedding banquet, he politely declines.

    His only headache now is finding a suitable partner for his own daughter, who’s in her 20s. Initially, Li wanted a matrilocal son-in-law, but he ultimately placed the decision in the hands of his daughter. “After all, the foundation of marriage is love, not money.”

    Reported by Li He.

    (Due to privacy concerns, interviewees other than Li Jiyan are all pseudonyms.)

    A version of this article originally appeared in Fir Record. It has been translated and edited for brevity and clarity, and is republished here with permission.

    Translator: Vincent Chow; contributions: Strapko Nastassia; editors: Xue Ni and Hao Qibao.

    (Header image: VCG)