With a top-end camera hanging from his shoulder, Gao Yongxiang was searching out potential wives for some of China's richest bachelors through IFC, a landmark shopping mall located in the center of Shanghai's financial district.
Although he appeared lost in thought, Gao was tracking the clusters of young women zigzagging from Bally to Valentino. The 25-year-old is one of China's premier "love hunters", a new breed of matchmaker who differentiate themselves from the more conventional end of the trade.
"It all matters - the girl's looks, her figure, temperament, height and weight," said Gao, adding that shopping malls, city center office buildings and college campuses are good places to hunt, depending on exactly what the client wants. "They can be very picky sometimes," he admitted.
The company that employs Gao, Diamond Love and Marriage, caters to China's nouveau riche; men - and occasionally women - who are willing to pay at least 10,000 yuan ($1,600) to outsource the customized search for their ideal partner.
"The criteria are very detailed, because for people with assets worth 5 million to 100 million yuan, a spouse is like a part of their name card - being pretty is just not enough," said Liu Li, a consultant with the company.
Liu said love hunters have to track down the target's basic information, including full name, age and educational background, and convince them to let him take photos, and all in a very short period of time. Successful love hunters, those who find someone to match their client's stated criteria, receive a bonus of $30,000, around five times their average annual salary.
Having worked as a love hunter for more than three years, the polite and good-looking Gao has the skills to talk to women about joining the agency's database. "Around 40 to 50 percent of the women I talk to agree to give me their details and let me take photos, but to be honest, it also depends on luck," he said.
A 25-year-old Shanghainese surnamed Chen said she hesitated when first approached by Gao at Shanghai's biggest matchmaking party, but was impressed by his sincerity. "I don't think I'd have given my personal information if it hadn't been him," she said.
If Diamond Love and Marriage is the customized matchmaking platform for millionaires, then Yali Marriage Quotient promises to find any woman's perfect husband in three months.
"We're more like an educational institute, offering classes that help women understand themselves better and build their confidence so they are more outgoing. Good things, including marriage, will happen once they start coming out of themselves," said life coach Liang Yali, the agency's founder.
Of course, it all comes at a price. The premium package, which consists of four two-day classes and tailored coaching, costs 11,800 yuan.
"That's very little to pay to improve your life - to meet your soul mate and start a family," said Kenneth Davis, 54, Liang's husband and the company's executive director.
Liang said that the average time for "graduation" is about 90 days, from the time the student starts classes to the day they walk down the aisle. She offers a 100-percent refund if clients are unhappy.
Wang Weiming, deputy director of the Committee of Matchmaking Service Industries, said the average success rate among matchmaking agencies is around 8 to 10 percent. "But for some of the top-end agencies, the figure can be as high as 20 percent," he said, adding that figures provided by Shanghai's civil affairs bureau show that out of every 100 couples, eight were introduced by matchmakers.
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