Parents at Shanghai's 'Matchmaking Corner' cheated by marriage agents
Fraudulent agents stalk a popular marriage market in a Shanghai park
At weekends near the No 5 gate at the People's Park in the heart of Shanghai visitors can see hundreds, sometimes thousands, of older parents and pensioners gather.
They are there to display their unmarried children's personal information in an effort to find them the perfect partner.
The site is well known in the city as "Matchmaking Corner" and pieces of paper listing the ages, education and jobs of prospective husbands and wives hang from the trees like laundry from a line.
All is not well, however, at Matchmaking Corner. Huangpu district authorities have cracked down on matchmaking agencies operating in the area.
Parents have complained of paying hundreds of yuan for help to find a partner for their children only for the agencies to disappear with their cash.
Other agents have hired attractive men to go on dates with marriage candidates, posing as prospective partners to justify the agencies' fees, according to Wenhui Daily newspaper.
This week the authorities posted a notice on the park gate banning people from setting up booths to offer commercial matchmaking services, Shanghai Television reported.
"Matchmaking services that charges fees will be forbidden," an official was quoted as saying. "Matchmaking activity by parents is still approved."
Matchmaking Corner began life in 2005 when several retired officials thought up the idea as a way to help the city's unmarried young people. Its popularity reflects the growing number of so-called leftover young men and women in Shanghai. Many people, particularly older generations, deem men and women who have not married by their late 20s as left on the shelf. This social attitude is reflected at Matchmaking Corner as the people seeking a Mr or Mrs Right are not the young people themselves, but their parents.
It is not easy to distinguish matchmaking agents as many are elderly and pose as parents, or pretend to be staff from non-governmental groups. Also, many of the fraud cases only involve small amounts of money, which do not warrant the time and expense of a full investigation by the police.
The park itself does not have the staff or resources to police the matchmakers, as they are also busy dealing with the usual surge of other visitors at the weekend. The park probably did not help its cause two years ago by encouraging agencies to set up shop.
One thing, however, seems certain. There appears to be little chance of Matchmaking Corner's popularity waning.
As long as people consider that not marrying by 30 is a problem, then the market for matchmakers will thrive.