DATING IN CHINA
In the past girls began pinning up their hair at the age of 15 to indicate they were eligible for marriage. Dating was virtually nonexistent. Girls mostly stayed at home and were rarely in the company of non-family members. In China it is not unusual to find women in their late 20s who have never had a relationship. Twenty-year-old Barbara Li, a lingustics majorr from Nanjing University who works at a magazine in Shanghai, told The Times, “I’ve been single all my life. In high school, we were not permitted to have boyfriends. At university there were only six boys in my class.” She says her mother signed her up for an online dating service without her permission and her dad complains she is too independent.
Dating in high school and university is still widely discouraged by parents and teachers who believe that interest in the opposite sex detracts from studying. In the 1980s, couples were still apprehended by discipline police at universities for smooching on campus. A decade-old law forbidding marriage among university students was only repealed in September 2005. Some colleges require married students to live apart while they are enrolled.
Most parents don’t want their children to date in high school or the first two years of university. Some object to dating in the last two years. Even so many highschool students and some middle class students have boyfriends and girlfriends. When one middle school girl was asked if she had boy friend she told National Geographic, “There’s a boy who likes me. But all the boys in my grade are very low-class.”
Dating changed under the Communists. In the early 1950s, half of all married couples met through relatives, neighbors and coworkers. By the late 1950s, more and more couples were meeting through government matchmaking agencies, clubs and associations, singles parties and personal advertisements in magazines like Chinese Woman and Economic Life.
These days, Western-style dating often only takes place in universities, where young people are beyond the supervision of their parents and can do what they want. One young man told The Times: “I’d like a girlfriend who is kind-hearted, who believes in me and is faithful. She shouldn’t be with me and other men at the same time.”
Asian-style dating often involves groups of young women and young men going out together in group for a meal or for a drink, or to a karaoke. If they go to a nightclub, men and women dance together in a group. Potential boyfriend and girlfriends break off from the group, often in a way orchestrated by other members of the group, and go for walk somewhere.
Matchmaking and Dating in Modern China
Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote in The Telegraph, “ China’s spectacular economic growth has, for many, turned dating and marriage into a commercial transaction, and material expectations from marriage have soared. It is often said – only half-jokingly – that to compete even at the lower reaches of the urban Chinese dating market men must have at least a car and a flat. The matchmaking industry has gone into overdrive, not just to cater to the rich but also because of government unease over the numbers of older single professional women.[Source: Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, The Telegraph, October 22, 2013 ^|^]
“Although forced or arranged marriage was banned in 1950, finding a partner remains a formal process for many.“Marriage is seen as a factor in promoting social stability,” explains Leta Hong Fincher, the author of a forthcoming book on “leftover women” and gender inequality in China. “There is lots written in the state media about how all these tens of millions of unmarried men pose a threat to society. But at the other end of the spectrum, unmarried women who are not fulfilling their 'duty to the nation’ by getting married and having children are also seen as a threat.” As it has moved from communism towards a freer economy China has become a richer – and also increasingly unequal – society. And as a disproportionate few make fortunes, leaving tens of millions of ordinary people behind, many women see marrying a rich man as a short-cut to wealth. ^|^
Brook Larmer wrote in the New York Times, “Three decades of combustive economic growth have reshaped the landscape of marriage in China. China’s transition to a market economy has swept away many restrictions in people’s lives. But of all the new freedoms the Chinese enjoy today — making money, owning a house, choosing a career — there is one that has become an unexpected burden: seeking a spouse. This may be a time of sexual and romantic liberation in China, but the solemn task of finding a husband or wife is proving to be a vexing proposition for rich and poor alike. “The old family and social networks that people used to rely on for finding a husband or wife have fallen apart,” said James Farrer, an American sociologist whose book, “Opening Up,” looks at sex, dating and marriage in contemporary China. “There’s a huge sense of dislocation in China, and young people don’t know where to turn.” [Source: Brook Larmer, New York Times, March 19, 2013 ^-^]
“The confusion surrounding marriage in China reflects a country in frenzied transition. Sharp inequalities of wealth have created new fault lines in society, while the largest rural-to-urban migration in history has blurred many of the old ones. As many as 300 million rural Chinese have moved to cities in the last three decades. Uprooted and without nearby relatives to help arrange meetings with potential partners, these migrants are often lost in the swell of the big city. Demographic changes, too, are creating complications. Not only are many more Chinese women postponing marriage to pursue careers, but China’s gender gap — 118 boys are born for every 100 girls — has become one of the world’s widest, fueled in large part by the government’s restrictive one-child policy. By the end of this decade, Chinese researchers estimate, the country will have a surplus of 24 million unmarried men.^-^
“Without traditional family or social networks, many men and women have taken their searches online, where thousands of dating and marriage Web sites have sprung up in an industry that analysts predict will soon surpass $300 million annually. These sites cater mainly to China’s millions of white-collar workers. But intense competition, along with mistrust of potential mates’ online claims, has spurred a growing number of singles — rich and poor — to turn to more hands-on matchmaking services. Today, matchmaking has warped into a commercial free-for-all in which marriage is often viewed as an opportunity to leap up the social ladder or to proclaim one’s arrival at the top. Single men have a hard time making the list if they don’t own a house or an apartment, which in cities like Beijing are extremely expensive. And despite the gender imbalance, Chinese women face intense pressure to be married before the age of 28, lest they be rejected and stigmatized as “leftover women.” ^-^
Dating Services in China
In an effort to find mates for the surplus population of bachelors, the government has established matchmaking services in cooperation with women's federations, trade unions and other organizations. As part of the arrangement women are allowed to go through all the files of male candidates while male are only allowed to go through files selected for them. An introduction is made if a couple thinks they might be compatible.
Many dating services allow customers to flip through binders with photographs and descriptions of possible mates. Computer dating first appeared in Beijing in 1989. The ultimate dating service in Shanghai is one that unites rich men with assets of at least $250,000 with a group of beautiful, intelligent women on a cruise of the Huangpu River in China, with participants paying $3,600 each
Traditional marriage brokers and government-sponsored computer dating services complain they have too few women. "Of the young people who come into this office at least 70 percent are men," a social worker at a dating service told New York Times. "The girls are very happy with this service because they can set their standards very high for a prospective husband---intelligence, education, money---and then have a good chance of finding a man who meets their standards."
At Chinese speed dating sessions parents sometimes accompany their children.
Dating Services in China and What Chinese Men and Women Want in a Mate
As of November 2012, 40 million messages had been sent on the Momo dating service which began operating in 2012. “Both men and women tend to look 45 degrees upwards when searching for a partner,” Gong Haiyan, co-chief executive officer of China’s largest online dating agency, Jiayuan.com (DATE), told Bloomberg. “Everyone thinks he deserves someone better than he actually is.” When Gong founded the website nine years ago, female customers listed owning a house as one of the nice-to-haves. Now it’s almost the main criteria, she said. Jiayuan.com had 62 million members in 2012. [Source: Bloomberg News, May 31, 2012]
“The first thing they look for is if you have a decent job, what is your salary like, if you have an apartment,” said Hansen Huang, 34, from Anhui province, who has worked in Shanghai’s information technology industry for 12 years. “Women are looking for a partner who can provide so they can live relatively comfortably.” With a friendly smile, checked shirt and glasses, Huang came to the fair with a friend “to give myself a chance,” he said with a chuckle. As he talked about the kind of girl he wanted -- 24 to 28 years old and 1.6 to 1.7 meters tall -- two sets of parents came up to speak to him. [Ibid]
Mass Dating in Shanghai
In May 2012, Bloomberg reported: “Zhang Peijuan, 58, scans the thousands of young men and women gathered in Shanghai’s Expo Park, looking for an eligible bachelor. “He should have a college degree, be about 1.75 meters tall, and property is a must,” says the curly-haired, retired researcher, who is shopping for a husband for her daughter and carries three photos of the 28-year-old in her handbag. “Young people these days work too hard. When I see someone I think my daughter may like, I approach him for his contact.” [Source: Bloomberg News, May 31, 2012]
Zhang was among 38,000 singles and concerned parents at Shanghai’s largest matchmaking event, as the city seeks to revive a birth rate that has collapsed to almost half the level in Japan. China’s richest city, leading financial center and largest port will see marriage registrations fall 17 percent this year, according to official estimates. ‘shanghai is at the frontier of these broad social changes and this is what is happening across urban China,” said Wang Feng, Beijing-based director for the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy. “We will see it spread.”
In Shanghai the number of couples tying the knot in the first four months of the year fell 10 percent to 41,282, according to the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau. Registrations for 2012 are forecast to fall to 120,000 pairs. Better education has given more women the desire to choose their own partner, said Juemin Zhou, director of the Shanghai Matchmaking Trade Association, the main organizer of the event. “In the past, women were matchmade by their parents,” said Zhou. “Then, it didn’t matter how old you were, or if your partner was blind in one eye, you still had to get married. Now, if you don’t find someone suitable, you just don’t settle.”
About 2,000 couples were successfully matched at the 2011 mass dating event, according to Zhou. In 2012, parents studied profiles of single men and women in dozens of matchmaking booths around the park, one decorated with pink feather boas. A typical poster read: 1.67 meter female working in a research field, born in 1983, looking for 1.77 meter male born after 1977. [Ibid] To improve visibility in the throng, one father holds up a badminton racket with his daughter’s details on a piece of paper fastened to the top, and a profile of her ideal mate below. [Ibid]
Many in the crowd are from other parts of China, a reflection of how Shanghai and other urban centers are making up for the decline in births. While Shanghai’s population has risen 38 percent to 23 million in the decade to 2010, the number of migrants has almost tripled to about 9 million, accounting for most of the increase, according to the last national census. [Ibid]
College Course in China On Relationships and Break Ups
Mei Jia and Guo Shuhan wrote in the China Daily, “Xiao Wei, a senior student of Peking University, will never forget the two depressing months he spent getting dragged out for beer and long conversations night after night by a roommate who simply could not come to terms with his breakup. "I was startled to see how an energetic and positive individual like him had suddenly turned into this depressed person, lingering in bed till noon, doing nothing all day and hanging out till late at night," he says, "But I could do little to help other than listen to his rants." [Source: Mei Jia and Guo Shuhan, China Daily, May 10, 2011]
“It is to help such people that the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education is considering running compulsory courses in universities to teach college students how to deal with affairs of the heart. In early April, the committee issued new university guidelines for mental health education, including relationship issues. Aimed at preventing psychological problems from turning into tragedies, the courses are designed to address common problems such as breakups and same-sex love. Originally intended as an optional course, it is now considered a compulsory one.” [Ibid]
“The move has triggered wide debate but most students, teachers and researchers are in agreement about the need for such education. Xia Cuicui, a teacher with the Psychological Consulting Center of Beijing Normal University, says around 15 percent of the 250 students who turn to the counselors every year, seek help with relationship problems. Xia says the real number of troubled students could be much higher as a number of students hesitate to approach the counselors, grappling with their pain alone, with disastrous consequences in some cases. "Most of the students magnify their problems when frustrated in love," Xia says. "They then lose the confidence to strike a balance in their lives." [Ibid]
‘some students are also troubled by a lack of courage to express their love and are unclear about what they want in a partner, Xia says. She recalls the case of an academically gifted girl who, despite a host of pursuers, chose an average boy. She told Xia she did a lot for him, even helping him with school work, but the boy broke up with her a year later. "I really don't understand why I'm dumped," the girl told Xia during a consultation, saying she felt humiliated. Xia advised the girl to take setbacks in love in stride, and as a normal part of maturing. The teacher, who has been running the optional course, Intimate Relationship and Self-growth, for four years, believes guiding people through relationships is crucial to building their positive self-image.” [Ibid]
“Wang Hongqi, veteran researcher of women studies at Capital Normal University (CNU), agrees and says since university students are at the threshold of forming relationships, this is the right time for such "love education". Wang believes the emotional problems faced by today's youngsters have to be seen in the larger context of a society in transition, pointing to changing attitudes in the choice of a spouse in recent decades. The overriding emphasis is on the position one occupies in society and the wealth one possesses.” [Ibid]
“Many young people lack a value system to guide their choices, she says. The way out is to define "a set of up-to-date values for the 21st century", she adds. As director of China Research Base on Women Culture under CNU, she believes having campus forums on issues of love and marriage can help this process. At one such forum held on April 16, writer Cui Manli, speaking to some 100 CNU students, said they should not assess themselves based on others' value systems. A random survey of 92 post-graduate students conducted that day showed that 43.8 percent would agree to a blind date, premarital sex, "naked" marriages (where both partners start their marital life from scratch) and "blitz" marriages (where couples get married soon after their first meeting).” [Ibid]
“Li Tonggui, a psychology teacher at Peking University, says relationship problems are often a result of different perceptions of love as shaped by one's education, friends and social experiences. He says the ultimate goal is to teach young adults about how to establish and maintain healthy personal relationships with everyone, and not just between lovers. The Peking University student Xiao Wei, one of Li's students, hopes the proposed course will help strengthen traditional values. "There is too much emphasis on the material aspects at present," he says. But Wang Shiyi, a senior at Beijing Foreign Studies University, fears the course may not be of much practical help.”
Asexual Web Sites
On the Internet there is a Chinese website for asexual singles. The site, “Marriage for Asexuals” (www.wx920.com ), has attracted several thousand users since it was launched in 2005. About 60 percent of the members are people who can not have sex. Most of the rest are gay people in search of opposite sex partners so they can put up a good front for family members.
There is also a site for MBAs---married but available. A popular site for elderly singles is the Mandarin Duck Garden. A 71-year-old man who uses this site told the China Daily, “My standard for a wife is high. besides good looks, she should be under 60 and no less than 166 centimeters in height. What’s more, she should be good at dancing.”
Dating Television in China
Rachel Dewoskin, Foreign Babes author
One of the most popular television shows in China is a matchmaking program called We Meet Tonight, which is sort of a cross between the Dating Game and a talent show. "We receive very few applications from young women who are willing to appear as contestants," the host of the show told the New York Times. "The men are much more bold about agreeing to appear. And they are bold because they have to be."
Viewers are encouraged to write in for a date with contestants. "Maybe a man who appears on the show will get 30 letters," the host said. "But a woman will get over 50, sometimes 60. Sometime many more. Our record holder is a 24-year-old woman who got more than 500 letters." The show’s host claims he has set up several hundred marriages.
Internet Dating in China
As of 2006, 14 million Chinese used Internet dating sites, compared to 16 million in the United States and 10 million in India. Many expect this figure to grow rapidly as more than 100 million Internet users are single and of marriageable age.
Baihe.com is China’s largest matchmaking site. Large American Internet dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony are eyeing the Chinese market as avenues of growth. But there are many challenges especially if one wants to make money. Of the 14 million people that use dating services only 500,000 or so pay any fees and total revenues earned from all the dating service sis only around $24 million.
Dating services that charge fees generally do not last long. Most make their money from online advertising or ticket sales to events such as speed-dating mixers that charge $13 for admission.
Young Chinese Singles Looking for Love Online
Red Sorghum film Rachel Au-Yong wrote in The Straits Times, “For many young singles in China, last Saturday's Chinese Valentine's Day was an urgent reminder for them to get hitched quickly. That in turn prompted more of them to turn to online matchmakers for help. No longer is the face of such clients only that of a 40-year-old bachelor or spinster; the average age of clients is now much lower. In fact, those under 25 form a sizeable chunk of the singles market in China.” [Source: Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, August 8, 2011]
Jiayuan - one of the country's largest online matchmaking firms - is no exception. It has close to 19 million active users under the age of 25, or 39.5 per cent of its entire client database. Others, like Xiaoyuan Love - literally, 'Love on Campus' - gear their matchmaking services specifically to under-graduates and recent graduates.Eager to avoid becoming one of the country's sheng nan sheng nu, or "left-over men and women", many are looking for partners while they are still young.
One reason is the intense competition for love. The number of unmarried men is expected to exceed that of available women by 24 million in 2020, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. And, as more women earn college degrees, their demands increase. Many hope to meet future spouses with good jobs and property."Their looks and young age are their assets," said art student Wang Shengkai. He has many female friends who have signed up with matchmaking agencies, both online and off. The Internet helps make the search a little easier for both sexes, matchmakers say. "The young are dependent on the Internet now - whether it's because they're busy, or shy, it's only natural they go online to find their partner," said Jiayuan spokesman Liu Jing. Ms Liu Chaoqiong, spokesman for dating site Baihe, agreed. "In the past, people could rely on their hometown and friends," she said. "But with populations moving all the time, people can rely only on themselves. And that's how young people connect - through the Internet."
Those who baulk at their parents' anxious interference prefer the anonymity and protection online dating offers. "As long as I sign up with (an online dating service), I can check on my own time if there are people I think would match me," said student Li Xuanwei, 24. "If I like them, it's a bonus, and if I don't, my parents can't blame me for not trying."
Working Women in China Seek Relief from Dreary Jobs by Online Dating
Sim Chi Yin wrote in The Straits Times, “Advertising executive Wang Xin, 29, on the other hand, is equally jaded about her job but puts her energy into finding a husband - by dating assembly-line style. She spends hours every night 'mechanically' checking two match-making websites "like a stockbroker checking stock prices", she said. She exchanges e-mail or messages on social networking sites with the men she might have some luck with. Wang has dated - and broken up with - three men in the past eight months. [Source: Sim Chi Yin, The Straits Times, September 13, 2010]
"I feel very trapped in my boring job of six years, but I keep thinking I have to first find someone to marry and then move on in my career, so I keep trying," she said. She does not quite see herself as a 'plasticine' person, however. "I feel stuck in life. And I feel confused, trapped. But I can't find the motivation to do something about it," she said. "I want to change my life, but I don't know the way out."
Chinese Online Break Up Service
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times of London, “For the equivalent of about $30 per break-up, a new breed of website will hit a soon-to-be ex with the bad news and save the timid customer the anguish of doing it themselves. A very basic package will see the dumping conducted - with practised sensitivity and sympathy - over the phone, e-mail or via instant messaging services.Those who opt for the more expensive platinum service will have their dirty work done in person, with the break-up agent arriving at the scene with small gifts to ease the cruel shock of shattered romance.” [Source: Leo Lewis, Times of London, September 8, 2011]
One company insists before the contract is carried out that the client is prepared to cover any medical costs that arise from a "shoot the messenger" response from the brokenhearted victim. For those customers determined to steer a more conciliatory tack, some of the internet companies offer the services of a proxy groveller: someone to undertake the perfect, schmoozing apology on behalf of those too nervous to do it in person.
China's break-up proxies tout their wares on Taobao, the country's sprawling e-commerce platform. Their rise coincides with a creeping crisis in the state of many Chinese relationships as the country's urban population soars and young people are wrenched through the trials of economic migration.
Image Sources: 1) 1930s pictures, Night Revels, University of Washington; 2) Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; Wiki Commons, Amazon
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated June 2015