Paper short abstract:
Drawing on ethnographic data collected in the city of Nanjing, China, in 2011-2012 and 2014, this paper looks at unmarried couples’ living arrangements and at how they relate to the institution of marriage and to politics at large.
Paper long abstract:
This paper draws on ethnographic data collected in the city of Nanjing, China, between 2011 and 2014, to explore unmarried couples’ living arrangements and how these relate to the institution of marriage and to wider political issues.
Most Chinese urban citizens regard marriage as the mark of passage into full adulthood, and automatically associate it with childbearing. For this reason, universal marriage is largely considered to be the norm, especially for females. For both men and women, protracted singlehood is considered to be an abnormal status. Bachelors are often seen as unsuccessful and even as socially dangerous (Greenhalgh) while women who remain unmarried into their thirties are readily labelled as shengnu (leftover women).
In this context, in the paper I introduce an unmarried couple that has been cohabiting for over fifteen years. Even under continued social pressure, the couple defy largely accepted social norms by refusing to marry and have children in view of their ideas regarding the family and the state. Yet, their living arrangements include cohabiting in owned property, and a shared budget driven from the earnings of the male partner. Their expensive lifestyle also evokes the models of heterosexual lifelong partnership that most people in urban China associate with the ideal married couple. Through the couple’s voices, I compare this arrangement with marriage and explore how their own discourses about the politics of marriage and the family intertwine with their ideas about lifestyle, class and the state.
Technologies of relatedness: different practices of intimacy in Asia