Dutch couples

China’s latest hit TV show is about ‘AA’ marriages

Dutch couples

All about the money: Li Xiaolu

For centuries, marriages in China were often arranged affairs, aligning families for economic or political purposes.

Although most people marry for love these days, financial matters rarely seem far from the surface when it comes to keeping marriages going. And to avoid unnecessary tensions, some Chinese couples are now opting to ‘go Dutch’ when it comes to expenses – namely, they each control their own finances.

Well, that’s according to the latest hit TV show AA Lifestyle (the term for going Dutch in China is AA, which seems to be derived from the expression Algebraic Average, suggesting separate payments).

The drama, produced by Hunan Satellite TV, has been a leader in the primetime ratings since it started airing in April. It follows two young couples as they struggle to deal with money issues after getting married. It also explores the increasing tendency for young couples to maintain financial autonomy.

One pair split everything from household finances to taxi fares (the husband even pays his wife to make him eggs for breakfast). But viewers soon see that splitting finances isn’t straightforward. Another of the show’s couples starts to squabble over their purchases. A further problem is different perceptions of money – one partner grew up without financial worries, the other was anxious every day.

Once the husbands and wives start making independent financial decisions, they soon start making a host of other choices independently. And the viewers witness the inevitable as marriages start to unravel. The show raises the question: is going Dutch the way to stay together?

Critics say the series reflects the realities of the single-child generation, which isn’t accustomed to sharing anything. Moreover, like some of the characters on the show, the same generation is often financially dependent on its parents even after marriage, causing more problems.

Netizens seem less supportive of the AA lifestyle. According to one online poll, 58% of the respondents said they have not tried and are not interested in going Dutch after marriage. But 42% say they wouldn’t mind giving it a go.

Most of those commenting felt that financial independence fundamentally undermines the nature of marriage, increasing the risks of divorce.

“On the face of it, going AA seems fair – what is yours is yours. But after a while, financial independence becomes emotional independence,” one internet user wrote.

“Even business partners sometimes help each other out let alone two people that share the same bed every night. An AA lifestyle is no different from two strangers temporarily forming a partnership – one doesn’t take responsibility for the other,” another concluded.

Nanfang Daily also suggests that most older people in China find it difficult to accept the AA lifestyle because they instinctively feel that money should be shared within the family. Still, supporters of the lifestyle say that financial autonomy can also strengthen a relationship. Disputes over money are often a harbinger of divorce. So an AA approach is a good way to avoid these fights altogether, suggests the Information Times.

The main character in the show He Qi – played by Li Xiaolu – also tells her husband: “In the long run, the AA lifestyle is the best way to avoid the irreconcilable differences between us.” But as the show progresses, audiences also see that many marriages fall apart over many things other than money. He Qi and her husband eventually divorce but it has less to do with financial discord than his infidelity.

What that says about marriage in China today is another matter entirely.

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