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In China, the “Blind date”, a social engagement between two people who have not seen or met each other before, usually arranged by a mutual acquaintance, is a concept that many young people today rely on to find their “Perfect Match”. By which both families are all benefit from their capital exchange. Basically, men and women traditionally should be of equal social class, wealth, educational qualification and appearance when they date (The Chinadaily, 2017). However, faced with social pressure and family expectations, marriage can become a material transaction by choosing one’s personal objective circumstance instead of long-term emotional satisfaction. The aim of this essay is to review the historical reasons for this typical culture in China and analyze the social discourse constructed by hidden power using Foucault’s theory about “Discipline and punishment”. The essay will firstly focus on the postmodern context to analyze this theory. Secondly, it will evaluates the current state of marriage in China in terms of the prevalent phenomenon of “Blind date” and go on to discuss the historical reason and how people trap in those social discourses, which are firmly constructed by power.
In postmodern times, power is gradually exercised by stimulation rather than repression. Therefore, people are dominated by telling the truth. According to Foucault (1972), power permeates through knowledge and goes on to have a huge influence on people’s cognition by using specialized language or information, which he defined as “discourses” (ibid). Within this process, disciplines involving power become a mechanism that operate in numerous micro-practices and make people enter self-regulation (Foucault, 1979). Reference to Jeremy Bentham’s ‘Panopticon’ reveals that power can be visible but uncertain; it forces poisoners to regulate behaviors by their own. The most simple comparison between the traditional explanation of power and Foucault’s appeared in his “Discipline and Punish”:
We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, it ‘conceals.’ In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production. (Foucault 1979:194)
Foucault (1979) indicates that modern power does not strengthen the conquest of the human body, establishes a relationship to make people more useful and more submissive through social discourse. Similarly, Shilling (2003) suggests that the authority can get a greater extent of control through knowledge discourse. In terms of marriage, it is consistently considered to be a necessary experience to find a “Perfect Match” by a certain age and responsible for social reproduction. Anyone who is out of this condition will feel pressure to make himself or herself eligible in order to avoid being different. As a result, power is no longer a negative notion, but a positive productive force.
Although Chinese marriage patterns have changed in modern times, the belief in the metanarrative of “Perfect Match” is still deeply ingrained by social discourse. Sandy (2015) concluded it is true that there was indeed alternative relationship forms to traditional marriage for modern-day men and women to choose from, such as cohabitation, open marriage, committed relationship but not get married. However, some single Chinese continue to struggle with marital issues, facing great pressure from their families and even society as a whole. A recent Chinese marriage survey on Tecent website (2017) shows that there is an increase number among young people who have hesitation or negative attitude towards marriage. However, nearly 60% proportion of interviewees, especially the parents’ generation insists that getting marriage is necessary in lifetime (ibid). As the Chinadaily (2017) reported, every weekend, parents gather around the “blind date corner”, hoping to find perfect matches for their single adult child. They lay out pieces of paper listing their child’s worldly assets in each aspect, from educational qualification to household registration and personal wealth, which are the common guidelines to look for matches. Obviously, those labels form an invisible ranking system. According to this article, people who have Beijing Hukou (registered resident), well educated and own personal house in main district of Beijing will be classified as top echelon and also be regarded as a suitable competitive candidate to be a suitable daughter and son-in-law. Thus, marriages become a pursuit of materialism and turn into a quantifiable transaction, within which individuals are divided into different levels catering to the selection mechanism that is constructed by social discourse. In other words, as Foucault (1979) indicated, the subject is not an autonomous individual, but becomes a product of social structures that our self-identity is based upon.
The concept of “Perfect Match” is based on China’s long idealized tradition of continuing the family lineage. Although the social discourses seem to be different from historical period to modern times, it can be seen that personal beliefs and desires towards marriage are inevitably associated with hidden power. In history, the children’s marriage had to be arranged by their parents. The “Perfect Match” in imperial marriage policies was closely correlated with political purpose; it was used to enhance political control or to gain greater access to political power. In recent times, arranged marriages still exist, the main participants in “blind date corner” are those people who were born in 1950-1960 and became parents in 1980s’ (The Chinadaily, 2017). they tend to treat marriage as a way to improve their children’s life quality and social class through “Perfect Match”. As Ebrey (1991) points out, every marriage has possibilities to change both economical and social situation, concluding that‘Marriage, in effect, becomes part of the system of social reproduction in which status, rank, and class differences are passed on to the next generation’ (1991:2). However, these aforementioned parents are the generation that typically results from social transition, by which are called the generation of being deprived. Basically, they experienced a childhood with material scarcity and the movement of Educated Urban Youth Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement (Wikipedia, 2009) also encountered birth control after getting married. Thus, they are desperately eager to enhance their children’s status (especially for daughters) or at least consolidate their social class by a “Perfect Match” spouse. Evidently, marriage can be seen as a reflection of economic and social situation. Indeed, after the abolition of feudal marriage by government on May 1950, it was considered that people had escaped from traditional marriage dominated by feudal hierarchy; marriage based on new Marriage Law was defined as free-choice marriage:
The provision of full rights for the individual to handle his or her own matrimonial affairs without any interference or obstruction from third parties and without regard for social status, occupation or property. (Wu 1957, cited in Croll 1981:1)
By contrast, Ocko (1991) argues that the traditional ideological constructs are still actively influential today though; it have been replaced by a new social discourse based on patriarchy, which means a mere variation of power, extending its social control over all aspects and continually affects everyone. However, this is an undetectable process since people believe that the remnant “feudal thinking” should be responsible for all negative actions. This refers to the “hidden” which Foucault emphasis in his theory; Namely, the power manipulates people throughout every micro social approach in a positively unconscious way.
In conclusion, social phenomena from the individual actions and interactions due to existing discourses constructed by modern power, which is imperceptible and productive without a specific enforcer. Consequently, the dominant position of “Perfect Match” in mainstream values is based on the knowledge in terms of necessity of marriage and pursuit of economic status and higher social class, automatically contributing to “Blind Date corner”. It is inevitable that discourses can be changed by different social context, the hidden power control cannot be eliminated.
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