Love doesn't come easy for Chinese yuppies

Harry Han was pleased with himself. In the space of a few minutes, the dapper, handsome 29-year-old had pocketed a couple of women’s phone numbers and was now coolly scanning the crowd for his next target.

“There are five hours and each date takes eight minutes, so I can get to know a lot of people,” Han said on a recent Saturday evening of matchmaking in China’s largest city, Shanghai.

“Everybody is aware of what they are doing here tonight—so maybe my ship has come in,” said Han, one of more than 4 000 eager participants who came to Zhongshan Park in search of that most fickle of human desires—love.

While a certain pragmatism was the prevailing sentiment at Shanghai’s largest matchmaking festival to date, men were particularly appreciative of the no-nonsense approach and especially the three-to-one ration in their favour.

“You see a nice girl here, you just go up and talk to her and ask her for her cellphone number—no need to hesitate, no need to be shy,” said Zhao, embarrassed to give his first name but keen to get back to work.

“If men take a bit of initiative, there will be loads of chances to find someone,” said the 39-year-old salesman. “If you did that on the subway, people would just think you were a freak.”

Filling a void

Organisers of the event said the wholesale modern version of the ancient Song-dynasty tradition of matchmaking—arranged exclusively for white-collar workers who earn a minimum of 5 000 yuan ($620) a month—is filling a void for the overworked Chinese professional.

“The economy is growing fast, society is developing fast and people are just too busy to date,” said Song Qian, assistant chairperson of 51friend.net, a popular internet dating site that co-organised the event.

Song said one-third of white-collar workers aged 25 to 35 in China’s developed cities such as Beijing and Guangdong are unmarried, among the highest rates in the country.

“Some concentrate too much on their careers and so don’t take the initiative to date, while 75% of them complain they don’t have a large enough pool of potential partners,” he said.

Xie Jing (28), who came at the behest of her fretting mother, said there are plenty of friends, ex-schoolmates, colleagues or clients that she could choose to date, but it does not feel right.

“I just don’t want to break the balance of these relationships, because I’m used to just being friends with the people I know,” said the tall and graceful computer-software marketing manager.

For decades during ideologically stricter times, people like Xie or Han married with little ceremony or fuss, often with the first person they met from a nearby village or from the factory where they worked.

“Under China’s planned economy system, there used to be labour unions or women’s federations under which companies or work units would take care of people’s marriage,” said Xia Xueluan, sociologist with Beijing University.

“Labour unions of a textile company, for example, where almost all the workers were female, would organise a party with a steel company, where there were more men than women,” said Xia, lamenting the bygone communist past.

Reforms

But 25 years of economic reforms have shattered those conservative, stifling traditions and while Chinese today have unprecedented personal freedoms, the changes have brought complications to the sexual equation, especially for women.

Urban women often delay marriage and then become more anxious to find a partner as their biological clock begins to tick, said Tang Jihui (25), a doctor.

“Women, especially professional women, are more educated today and so they wait longer to get married,” said Tang.
“I think most women want to have families and that is why you see more women here.”

Yet despite China’s newfound openness, traditional social pressures that place immense importance on marriage and children remain hugely influential.

“My mom is more worried than I am, especially when she sees her friends’ children get married,” said Xie.

“I’m fine being single, except when I get another wedding invitation from a friend, it makes me feel a little uncomfortable and it also puts more pressure on my mom,” Xie said.—AFP

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