By Amy Roach Partridge • Photos by Joe Xu '10
China's rapid modernization has brought drastic change to nearly all aspects of life for its 1.3 billion residents. Love is no exception. "The People's Republic of Love," a new movie by documentary filmmaker Joe Xu '10 (history and international relations), explores this rarely discussed aspect of China's continually evolving culture, offering a glimpse at the realities of love, dating and sex in 21st-century China.
"In a country going through rapid transformation, love has begun to take on new meanings in China," says Xu, 24, who wrote, edited and co- produced the film. "Traditional notions of love and marriage are changing as Chinese society becomes more tolerant. We wanted to understand and document the nature of these developments."
The topic is a natural fit for Xu, a Chinese native who came to the United States in 1997 at the age of 9. He moved to Beijing shortly after graduating from Bucknell, has worked for news organizations, including CBS News and NPR, and is one of the founding writers of the popular Chinese culture blog chinaSMACK. While he hasn't yet found love in China, he's had a front-row seat to the rapidly shifting dating environment documented in the film.
The business side of coupling up, the struggles of rural traditions in the face of modernization and the challenges of finding a soul mate in the world's most populous country are central themes of the documentary, which will debut on European television this summer.
"Many young people in China now have the time and money to spend on finding love," Xu says. As a result, the wedding and dating industries in China are booming, both online and off. Chinese web company Jiayuan is the world's largest dating web site, (72 million members and counting) and the country has seen the rise of a new profession: "love hunters."
"Historically, matchmaking was done by close relatives, but there are now dedicated companies that provide agents much like headhunters who search for qualified brides," Xu says. "In addition, online dating has opened up many new options for Chinese people to find the 'one.'"
Xu and his team also wanted to highlight the battle between traditional Chinese wedding customs and the Western influences that are creeping in. Familial pressure to honor traditions like dowries and wedding-day firecrackers (thought to ward off evil spirits) is still strong — especially in rural areas. But many Chinese couples have embraced American-style elements such as wedding gowns, tuxedos and engagement rings, Xu says.
The movie also tackles the still-taboo topic of homosexuality in China. "Most gay men and women in China chose to participate in fake marriages in order to please their parents, and those brave enough to come out often face pressures from their family and society as a whole," he explains.
Finding people willing to comment on such touchy subjects was not always easy for Xu — nor was dealing with China's tightly controlled film industry. The crew worked for six months, interviewing citizens from urban areas and country villages alike. "Due to China's restrictions on foreign media, it often was difficult to film on location, even in public areas. [Xu is a U.S. citizen.] In addition, China is still a socially conservative country, and issues such as love, sex and relationships are not spoken about openly," he explains. While his film is not likely change those reservations, Xu hopes it will "shed new light upon a dynamic society that is often seen as traditional."
You can follow the documentary at www.facebook.com/prldocumentary.
Amy Roach Partridge is a freelance writer and editor based in Westchester County, N.Y. Married with two children, she is happy that the finding-love phase of her life is behind her.