Guess who picked my date? There are not many cultures where it would be acceptable for a parent to choose one’s girlfriend, but in mainland China there is a multitude of options from television dating shows with unusual Chinese characteristics, mobile apps and blind dates.
“People are either blind dating or on the way to blind dating” is a popular saying, so dating shows have become popular but one stands out like a tall poppy in a field.
Transgender talk-show host dubbed Chinese Oprah, Jin Xing, is the MC of hugely popular reality TV show “Chinese Dating” because of its aggressive and unique style with young people bringing their parents and relatives on the stage to participate in the selection of their date.
The single women wait in a separate room while the parents ask the guy several questions such as what city do you work in (Beijing or Shanghai are preferred), do you have a houkou (household registration that gives you access to city services such as health care and education), and how much do you earn.
Critics have labeled it sexist and a step backward similar to the outdated custom of an arranged marriage, but the show partly reflects today’s Chinese marriage ecosystem where “leftovers” and their parents hit the panic buttons when festive events must be attended such as family gatherings during Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival or Chinese Valentine’s Day (February 11).
Leftovers refer to single women (usually those over 25) or men (usually over 30), who are not yet married or in a long-term relationship.
Aside form the TV dating show, blind dates directly involving parents and relatives are not rare in China because the future well-being of children are the most important career for mothers and fathers.
This is why many parents feel it is their duty to find Mr or Mrs Right for their twenty-something kids instead, while the younger generation today are more focused on work and maintaining a small circle of close friends.
After the parents’ screening, a candidate is set up with someone from a similar background or promising prospects, often sons or daughters may not appreciate this effort.
“Compulsive, indifferent and goal-oriented,” said Daisy Liu, a 29-year-old civil servant living in Beijing, as she gave one-word reviews on the more than 20 blind dates that her parents had organized for her.
Daisy’s parents and relatives started to play matchmakers as soon as she stepped into society at 23, but none of the blind dates worked out. Daisy enjoys her single life, but keeps going on blind dates to ease the concern of her parents.
“In normal families, women will be pushed to find someone and get married as soon as they reached the age of 25,” said Daisy. “They are considered doomed if the unmarried status lasts till 30.”
Daisy’s 28-year-old friend, Yilin Li, who is also a civil servant in Beijing, began her arduous journey of blind dating three years ago.
“Initially, the guy is the son of a family friend,” said Yilin. But after having been on dates with almost all the potential choices in the her circle of peers, her parents are now trying to set her up with anyone who works in Beijing and from the same hometown.
“I’m quite satisfied with being by myself,” Yilin said, sighing. “I go to work, have fun with friends and do things I like at my own apartment. It’s absurd to drag my quality of life down just because I need to get married.”
The pressure to get married makes it harder for children to share their love life with parents. Daisy found a boyfriend several months ago, but she plans to keep hiding that from her parents because she’s afraid that they would push the couple to get married even if their relationship does not work out.
Working in a government job doesn’t help either and makes it no longer just a family problem. Group activities are held to encourage stubborn single members to have a chat, which Yilin says, “turns you into being like goods waiting for sale.”
But even if Yilin avoids these activities, she cannot hide from the department leaders’ special gifts from time to time: another man to meet.
After exhausting the usual avenues of hunting for a mate, parents turn to parks and stadiums as target sites to fix blind dates for their children. Walking through Lotus Hill Park in Shenzhen, people can see hundreds of waterproof posters pinned on trees, lamps and fences, swinging in the wind day after day making an appeal for the right one to come.
The posters contain similar information – “My beloved daughter, born in 1986, single, 164cm, bachelor degree holder, bank clerk, also has car and property. We are looking for a gentlemen born after 1981 who is longing for marriage …” People who are interested can contact the phone numbers at the bottom.
“I have worked all my life for my daughter. I bought her a house and a car, now I just wish she could marry someone soon. She is already over 30,” said 56-year-old Yulan Yang. Her daughter is strongly against her mother’s involvement in her love life. “I know my daughter won’t appreciate my effort, so I will not tell her about it until there’s something solid.”
Parents have also tried other methods. Yilin remembered one of her friends’ parents paid hundreds of yuan for him to become VIP on Jiayuan, the biggest matchmaking website in China. For VIPs, matchmakers could set up more than 10 dates per day until the perfect one was found – as long as they kept paying.
Jiayuan has over 170 million registered users. Its counterparts Youyuan, Baihe and Zhenai also has considerable registration numbers.
But this still cannot fulfill the inner most craving of the young.
“Making friends should be the first step,” said Shiyu Wang, a 24-year- old kindergarten teacher in Zhengzhou. She uses Tantan, a dating app known as the Chinese version of Tinder that has accrued more than 40 million users in the past two years. People can talk first and then decide whether they want to go further in the relationship.
There are more than 100 similar apps that have been developing rapidly especially among the post-90s generation, but their existence is not enough. For the post-80s and those who are older, there are other obstacles. “It’s still hard for me to believe in those apps,” said Yilin. “There is too much fake information online. I’ll just stick with blind dates for now.”