'Pick-up artist' Christopher Wu teaches Chinese men how to woo women

An enterprising job hunter finds himself a lucrative niche leading the legions of mainland 'leftovers' along the path to romance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 1:31pm

A few years ago, Christopher Wu was just another university graduate looking for a job in America. Although he had studied economics, finance and politics and graduated from Indiana University with honours, his prospects seemed dim in the wake of the global banking meltdown. Then he started thinking about a friend's business, Pick-Up Artist, a course that helps single young men overcome inhibitions and hone their dating skills. Wu realised such a business might have massive potential in his native China, where the one-child policy has contributed to a surplus of men looking for a wife. In 2010, he moved to Beijing to set up China's first Pick-Up Artist branch. It has been a huge success.

What big challenges do Chinese men confront in developing relationships?

When I came back to China, speed-dating was booming. I realised that behind the heat there was actually the large gender gap of 30 million, leaving many young men as "leftovers". Also I noticed that lots of people tend to be shy about openly expressing their love. Perhaps Chinese schools that prioritise academic excellence and career development over romance and the traditional culture that discourages people from voicing their feelings should be blamed. I saw the rising market among the "leftovers" and decided to start a business for them.

Have you noticed any genuine changes among Chinese men since your return?

I would say such changes will take generations because everyone has to go through fundamental changes in their mindsets and values. What we can do is merely start reshaping their ideas with elements they find most acceptable. But the journey ahead is hard and will take a long time.

How did your clients receive your first courses?

Back then, most people got to know us by searching online for tips on hanging out with women they've just met and how to find ladies through social networking. The demand for such information was huge. Every day there are 200,000 to 300,000 searches using such key words. So at the beginning those receiving our training went for exactly what they needed. There was less opposition than we expected, with doubters wondering if men with such systematic training would really care about true love in the end, and whether it's ethical to win ladies' heart through tricks.

How did you respond to such criticism?

No doubt true love is attractive and an ideal relationship is desirable for everyone. But we also need to note that it's 2013 and people find it more and more difficult to accidentally bump into the "right" one with their daily schedules so occupied. If men want a romantic relationship, they need to accumulate experience and get to know what women really want in a relationship. For example, many of our students are outstanding academically and career wise but a lack of proper communication skills and dressing style prevents them from finding the right ladies. I just want to help them become more confident using our techniques.

How much do you charge? And who are most of your clients?

A three-day lecture series, plus consultation, costs 7,500 yuan (HK$9,400), but we also have a seven-day package for 16,500 yuan. The aim is to keep the target group relatively small so that we can provide a better-tailored, customised service. All our customers are men, with 80 per cent of them between 26 and 35 and the median age about 30. In other words, they are professionals who left campus three to five years ago and are just taking off in their career. A quarter of participants come from the IT industry and another quarter work in the financial sector. We also have entrepreneurs and freelance artists.

What characteristics do they have in common?

Most of them have not been adequately exposed to fashion as they spend most of their time in the office. Generally they have not had many romantic relationships, while the few exceptions did not get what they were looking for in previous experiences. They are seeking skills, whatever their background.

What does the course consist of? And is there any field practice?

We start by changing a student's dress style. We encourage them to read more books and magazines and customise their clothes if financially possible. Our consultants might also escort them when they are shopping. Then we will help them change their mindsets. For example, some guys think dating is inviting a woman for a romantic dinner or a good movie. But sometimes this is wrong. A woman does not naturally go into a relationship when a man chases her, but rather when she finds him attractive. So what we are trying to do is to show them step by step how a woman can be charmed. Clients are invited to clubs and other social venues to practise what they've learned in class.

What's your most inspiring story for the course?

One client operated an online shop. He was 25, short, plain looking, shy and had no romantic experiences at all. But after our lectures he became confident and married a lady almost 10cm taller than himself. He was a good example of the many Chinese men who scared themselves off dating by imagining that women only prefer those who are rich, tall and handsome.

Any moments when you feel challenged? Any moments of achievement?

I would say this occurs when some of our clients believe that catching the eye of a lady is inherently immoral. Social norms make some men feel they will be labelled as playboys by applying these tricks. Regrettably, other men are already doing so and bestsellers encouraging women to "market" for better husbands are popular. The pressure imposed on these men is pathetic. As for achievement, once I was having fun in a bar in Shenzhen when several of my former students recognised me. I went on chatting until almost 50 people were crowding the entrance yelling my name. At first I thought they were gangsters and really freaked out, until I realised they were my fans. I felt really excited as I finally felt I had achieved something.

Wu spoke to Keith Zhai