Hu Liu blushed when a young man came up to ask for her phone number.
Dressed in a Chinese gown, with delicate makeup, Hu sat quietly in her chair, a little out of place in the bustling atmosphere inside the hall.
She timidly answered the man's questions. Beside her at the same table, a young woman was animatedly discussing dinner plans for that evening with a man.
Hu, 26, an introverted single Beijinger and taking part for the first time in a group dating session with 699 people available for marriage, was not quite accustomed to the event.
Hu, a budget accountant with the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, is obviously not a social animal. "I am at the age to seriously think of marriage," she said, "but it's hard for me to meet and get to know guys."
There are few young men in her company and she stays home in her spare time.
She has seen several guys introduced by her colleagues, but they never met again after the first date.
"People always have a certain purpose in one-to-one dating," Hu said. "If they find the person is not their type, they won't waste any time."
That's why she tried the group dating session held by the Beijing Municipal Women's Federation.
"I am less nervous sitting among hundreds of people," Hu said. "I like the easy atmosphere."
The activity, held over weekends, is the biggest the federation has ever organized, but it pales compared with some others.
On April 22, 12,658 people took part in a group dating in Ningbo of Zheijiang, and nearly 10,000 showed up for one in Shanghai on May 20.
The agencies charge each participant 10-150 yuan (1.25 U.S.dollars-18.75 U.S.dollars) for entrance tickets to parks, food and drink, and other expenses including files on each participant.
"We don't make money out of the participants, but from sponsorship from studios, hotels and marriage service companies," said Xu Xiaoming, organizer of a 10,000-people dating event in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu Province.
Xu said that companies sponsoring the group dates were aiming at potential customers for their products and services.
Wu Xiuping, former vice-chairman of the women's federation, said more than 300 couples have tied the knot since the federation began to organize such activities three years ago.
The great popularity of group dating is no surprise since there are nearly 1 million single, young and available urban residents in Beijing and Shanghai, most of whom are well-educated, white-collar workers.
Frequently working overtime under pressure has isolated young people in the metropolises, leaving them no time to make friends and communicate with the world outside their companies," Wu said.
In the activity Hu took part in, participants were divided into 41 teams. In each team, everyone had one minute to stand up and introduce themselves to the others, and some of them were asked by the compere to sing a song or tell a story to break the ice. Then all 700 people could ask for a phone number. Hu had three requests.
Hu hadn't decided who was her Mr Right, but she said her ideal other half is a man who's not afraid to share his feelings with her. (More)