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Matchmaking: Can't buy me love?

By Shi Yingying  (China Daily)

08:02, May 22, 2013

Young people hoping to find their 'better half' attend Shanghai's biggest matchmaking party, which was held in the city's Qingpu district on Saturday and Sunday. [Photo by Gao Erqiang / China Daily]

Finding the perfect partner can be a family affair for many in China, as Shi Yingying reports in Shanghai.

On Saturday afternoon, an unsuspecting Wang Liwei was surrounded by 12 middle-aged women, mostly from Shanghai, in search of husbands for their daughters. Wang was in the middle of Shanghai's biggest matchmaking party, held in the city's Qingbu district.

Advertisements for the event promised the 28-year-old Shandong native an unparalleled opportunity to find his perfect partner, as more than 18,000 singles would be attending.

"But I never imagined anything like this - compared with the number of contacts I've made with young women, I've given out my number to many more of these desperate mothers who are hunting for son-in-laws, even though I tried my best to turn them away as politely as possible," said Wang, who works in information technology.

He said he was so overwhelmed by middle-aged women that he was afraid of running out of time to find the right girl.

Wearing wide smiles, the women badgered Wang about his age, profession, income, whether he owns an apartment in Shanghai, and which side of the city his property is located - Pudong or Puxi?

"Even though they'd murmur that I'm too young for their daughter once they knew my age, they still insisted I write down my number. Why don't parents encourage or bring their grown-up children with them, rather than date on their behalf?" wondered Wang.

Unconventional approach

Well, they do. But when their bashful offspring are too shy to approach a potential partner, eager Chinese parents decide to step in and help in their own way.
"My daughter is waiting outside the gate. She feels embarrassing because I'm too well-prepared for the event," said Lu Fang, 67, referring to the long plastic banner he'd set up in the center of the venue, which displayed personal information about his daughter, a 40-year-old doctor at Shanghai's Huashan Hospital.

Her ideal prospective groom is a "responsible man with stable income" and who ideally "owns an apartment and a car".

Lu was concerned: "My daughter actually holds a master's degree but I didn't use that information because I was worried it might scare off men with lower educational backgrounds. I just wrote that she has a bachelor's degree, so hopefully more men will approach us."

He said some of the young women in the venue had noticed his unconventional approach and copied the idea, writing their personal information on an A4 sheet of paper and hanging it out for all to see.

"Unlike me, they immediately attracted the attention of a few men," said Lu, his face etched with anxiety.

According to Zhou Juemin, president of Shanghai Matchmaking Agency Management Association, which organized the event, out of every 100 attendees, there were 46 men and 54 women.

Zhou called the disparity "a big relief" because "we don't have to limit the number of female participants and there's been no need to mobilize male members from matchmaking agencies in our association to even up the gender gap".

Up until last year, the organizers of events of this nature agonized over the uneven gender split. There were six females for every four males at the 2011 event, which attracted 10,000 singles.

"We rejected more than 100 girls from our outdoor matchmaking activities for 1,000 singles in 2012, but tried our best to lure single males from companies such as Baosteel and Shanghai Urban Construction Group," said Tang Weili, office director with the organizer of the 2012 event, Shanghai Matchmaking Agency Management Association.

That event saw the number of young men boasting a conventional "good job" - defined as working at a large, State-owned company - was less than half the intended number as organizers attempted to even up the gender distribution.

Women were charged an entry fee of 100 yuan ($16), but the men's tickets were paid for by their labor unions to encourage them to attend.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the number of men aged 30 or under outstrips women in the same age group by around 20 million. Approximately one in five women aged 25 to 29 is unmarried, while the proportion of unmarried men of equal age is around one-third higher.

"But that doesn't mean they will easily match up, because Chinese men tend to 'marry down', both in terms of age and educational achievement," said Zhou Xiaopeng, a national-level marriage and family counselor, who is also a consultant for the popular dating website Baihe.

"Women tend to have a stronger sense of emotional need, compared with men, especially women aged 30 and older. The pressure to become a wife and mother comes from their family or society," said Zhou.

She added that both males and females have a physiological requirement: "More than 70 percent of singles told me during consultation that they have sexual partners, but once that need has been met, women still long for marriage. Men, however, regard it as something attached to the provision of material goods, which can result in mental stress."

'Most desperate corner'

Outside the venue for the Shanghai event, there was a strong sense of desperation as lines of parents flocked to the lane next to the entrance, and - baulking at the entrance fee - exchanged notes on their progress.

This impromptu matchmaking market is an extension of Shanghai's People's Park, or "the most desperate corner" as it's been dubbed by Web users.

The city-center park is Shanghai's top matchmaking haunt at weekends, a place where parents present information about their unmarried sons and daughters in interesting and innovative ways.

Details such as age, height, educational background, profession, income and what their children are looking for in their partners are inscribed on A4 sheets of paper, which are then slipped into clear plastic folders and displayed on high objects or hung from tree branches. However, no photos are shown until a parent expresses a serious interest.

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