China’s overseas students return home to find love, before it’s too late

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 10:45am

It’s the stuff of Hollywood movies – meet someone, fall in love and get engaged in three days. For some it’s mission impossible, to use another Hollywood reference.

But a young Wuhan man did just that this past Lunar New Year holiday. What’s even more unbelievable is that he is a full-time student in Japan.

The 28-year-old, identified in a local newspaper only as Zhang, got engaged three days after he met a girl on a blind date arranged by his parents.

Worried Zhang would not find a partner on his own, his parents set up a date during his short five-day holiday from his studies in Tokyo. They demanded he take full advantage of it.

And he did. It was love at first sight.

“She has a baby face and hair that falls to her ears; she wears glasses and no make-up. And her smile is so warm it is like a spring breeze,” Zhang told Chutian Metropolis Daily.

Others are not that lucky.

Wang Zheli, 36, from Qingtian town in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, had 18 blind dates within 20 days during the new year break. The fact that he owns a small restaurant in Italy attracted many women, including nurses, teachers and public servants. In the end, he went on a second date with an accountant but gave no guarantees.

It’s typical for returning students like Zhang and Wang to look for potential partners in their home country, as young Chinese try to deal with the phenomena of the “leftovers”, people who fail to get married by 30.

"Blind dating in Beijing" video by Wu Nan

According to official data, about 249 million Chinese above the age of 18 are unmarried. This is almost one fifth of the Chinese population, which may explain the urgency with which people go on blind dates, or look for other creative ways to find a mate.

Chinese sociologist Yu Jianrong considers “leftovers” part of a social issue and said he wanted to help solve the problem.

He hopes to pair couples up via weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging service. His matchmaking account, “Random Red Thread”, is meant to be a platform for single men and women to exchange information and find each other. On its opening day, on the eve of the Lunar New Year, about 5,000 men and women posted to the account looking for “the one”.

Besides using Weibo’s social network, renting boyfriends or girlfriends has become popular, too. On Taobao, China’s largest online shopping website, lonely hearts can shop for partners as though they were a purse, coat or pair of shoes.

And who knows? You could fall in love with your rent-a-partner.

Prices range from 30 yuan to 2,000 yuan: dinner is about 50 yuan per hour (HK$62); meetings run at about 50 yuan per hour; watching films goes for 30 yuan per hour – unless it’s a horror flick, which calls for double the price. Want a boyfriend for a whole day? That’ll cost 2,000 yuan (HK$2,500).

Some parents go further than arranging blind dates with friends’ children. They become headhunters.

Public parks such as Zhongshan Park in Beijing, west of Tiananmen Square, are popular haunts where parents scour advertisements of the latest eligible bachelor, or bachelorette.

Every Thursday and Sunday afternoon, more than 100 silver-haired men and women hand out leaflets and hold up placards detailing the assets of their single children. It looks like a job fair as parents and grandparents run around comparing photos, taking phone numbers and arranging dates.

Asked why their children are still single, some say: “Blame the one-child policy.”

Their children could have more choices if there were a larger pool of people to choose from, they say.

Others think money is the problem.

“Children are becoming pickier. They prefer someone with an apartment and a car,” said a 65-year-old retired worker, who gave only his last name, Wang. He is trying to find someone for his 34-year-old son, a university lecturer.

A few think it is strict Chinese customs – study hard, no dating – that are to blame and that dating at university should be encouraged.

A middle-aged woman wearing a large pair of sunglasses stands out in the crowd as she advertises her 25-year-old daughter.

“I have to take action before it gets too late. Or my daughter could become one of those ‘leftover girls’,” she says.