The colourful founder of a matchmaking business that introduces “high-quality” Chinese men to young, good-looking Ukrainian women has upgraded his website and social media channels, which now tout his “success stories” in helping couples find cross-cultural love. Max Mei has launched a new commercial WeChat account and rebranded his website Ulove – which stands for “Ukrainian Love” – while the number of people following his Weibo account has grown to more than 800,000. Are Asian men undateable? Left swipe on a Tinder Hong Kong video seen as reinforcing unfair stereotype Mei, 35, founded his dating agency in Ukraine in 2016. Originally called Culove – “Chinese-Ukrainian Love” – he got the idea after sharing photos on social media of himself with his young Ukrainian wife and their first mixed-race child. Many followers commented that they aspired to emulate his success in life. He sensed a “market opportunity”, he later said. He realised he could leverage his fluent Russian, his “expertise on cross-cultural relationships” and the “overproduction of beautiful women in Ukraine” to launch a matchmaking business. Mei filled his website and social media channels with photos of his family, especially his blonde, model-like wife Dasha Mei. She is often seen wearing skimpy outfits – bikinis, making dumplings in her underwear – or just draped on her husband’s arm. There are also the children – he now has two – and he boasts about his thriving trading company and the US$400,000 property he claims to be building. It was not long before Mei’s website caught the attention of Chinese media, making him an instant internet celebrity. Reports by CCTV and People’s Daily online profiled Mei as an example of xue zha – “academic dregs” – who had found success and a beautiful local wife in a foreign land. Many male Chinese internet users were impressed with his story, dubbing him a “winner in life”. Some were sceptical about how successful he really was, suggesting that his “international import-export business” might in reality be a humble Chinese restaurant. Others commented that Mei’s home in Ukraine, seen in many of his videos, was a rather ordinary flat, noticeably lacking in luxuries. Mei’s story is now well known by his followers in China. He has claimed on social media that he relocated to Ukraine in 2001, at the age of 18, after scoring poorly in his gaokao exam, which Chinese students take before leaving secondary school. Unable to gain admittance to a decent university in China, he decided to study the arts in Ukraine because the country had favourable entry requirements for foreign university students, even though he initially confused Ukraine with Uganda. Based in the majority Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, Mei says he learned the language while playing table tennis with classmates. He stayed on in Ukraine after finishing his studies and later married Dasha, a local girl who he met when she was 16 and had a local bodybuilder boyfriend. An amateur photographer, Mei helped them out with a photo shoot, and Dasha repaid the favour by baking him a cake. Soon afterwards, Max says proudly, the bodybuilder was history and he and Dasha were a couple. Mei’s recent rebranding exercise includes a sleek new website and a new commercial WeChat account. His existing Weibo page – with a cover photo of his wife sprawled on her back in a bikini – has notched up about half a million followers. There is nothing difficult to [winning a foreign girl’s heart]. You just need to put in a little bit of effort and show your true self Ulove employee Asked via WeChat how successful Ulove has been in bringing couples together, an anonymous staff member replies and declines to provide figures, saying only that its success rate has been “quite high”. The Ulove website claims a 100 per cent satisfaction rate among clients, and an 80 per cent success rate, although it is not clear what constitutes either satisfaction or success. Three “success stories” are listed on the Ulove website, although one account is totally anonymous and gives so little away it is not worth a mention. The second is supposedly a testimonial from a Guangzhou-based man who gushes about how his girlfriend adored the action movie Wolf Warrior II , while his relatives are delighted there will soon be a mixed-raced child in the family. The third is a long and heartfelt account from a native of Shaanxi province of his previous nightmarish relationship in which his Chinese girlfriend “treated me like an ATM”. He reveals that his Ukrainian girlfriend is now pregnant, and advises that the best way to learn a foreign language is “chasing beautiful women”. Apparently, he is making excellent progress in Russian. There is no suggestion from the accounts that any of the couples have yet got married. Ulove’s services do not come cheap and exclude the price of the flight to Ukraine. The cheapest package, a single group date, costs 69,000 yuan (US$10,800). On date night, clients attend a “luxurious” mass date at Kharkov’s main golf resort where they are plied with sparkling wine and sushi, according to video footage on Ulove’s website and social media. Up to two dozen “female VIP members”, as the young women are called, descend a grand staircase one by one in evening dresses, to chat briefly – through a translator – with the “quality men” seated downstairs. With a Western girl, making her laugh and being romantic and considerate is enough. You don’t need to fork out a lot of cash Max Mei The men are given just enough time for a brief chat with each of the women. According to Ulove, some clients may take their chosen acquaintance on a trip back to China to get to know them better, if she agrees to go. The most expensive service offered by Ulove is the Black Gold Membership, which costs a whopping one million yuan. For that sum, clients are able to attend an unlimited number of speed dates, and enjoy one-on-one dates arranged by a team of 10 headhunters who scout the whole of Ukraine to find prospective young women tailor-made to the client’s requirements. The new age of Hong Kong dating: hunting hook-ups, going halves The Ulove employee contacted via WeChat says they stress to clients that “winning a foreign girl’s heart” is perfectly feasible during the date. “There is nothing difficult to it. You just need to put in a little bit of effort and show your true self.” The men are attracted by the prospect of finding “true love”, a desire to father a cute, mixed-race child, and the status symbol of a young European girlfriend or wife. Despite the high cost, there are economic benefits for the men, Mei claims in one video on Chinese video-sharing website Youku. Ukrainian women, he says, are not as materialistically demanding as Chinese women. “With a Western girl, making her laugh and being romantic and considerate is enough. You don’t need to fork out a lot of cash,” Mei explains authoritatively in another Youku video. In its marketing spiel, Ulove dares Chinese men to shed their fear of talking to an attractive Western woman – because then they will find true love. Ulove is merely a facilitator and adviser, helping clients find the courage within, and providing the logistic and technical support they need to achieve it. The young Ukrainian women who join the “international marriage club”, as Ulove is described to them in Russian, are not looking for a status symbol. Trapped in a country with a crippled economy and an ongoing civil war, they simply seek a committed husband to provide for them and their children, and a chance to see something of the world. Chinese men, the women say in Ulove video interviews, want children and are caring, generous and committed. Ulove says one of the main concerns expressed by clients is the women’s backgrounds. The Ulove employee who replied to the WeChat inquiry says that before the “female club members” are admitted, their background, age and the validity of their documents are all checked. Although the Ukrainian women seem to be genuinely impressed by the apparent long-term intentions of their Chinese suitors, a glaring language and cultural gap remains a problem, the employee admits. Few of Ulove’s clients can speak English, let alone Russian or Ukrainian. For this reason, before being introduced to the Chinese clients, the women are obliged to attend Ulove’s “China Ladies’ College” in Ukraine to learn basic Mandarin and familiarise themselves with Chinese culture. In one of Ulove’s videos, the women diligently recite Mandarin tones after their teacher, as Mei looks on approvingly. He then shows them a picture of China’s Great Wall, to gasps of admiration. Hong Kong’s part-time girlfriends (and a boyfriend) tell their stories The Ulove employee says the team believes the company’s prospects are bright: the matchmaking service is merely part of greater plan that involves trade, investment and tourism between China and Ukraine. A recent post on Ulove’s WeChat account announces a return trip to China by Mei, and invites followers to attend his seminars on these subjects. A subheading on the post adds that the speaker will be bringing along his jipin (“high-end product”) – a reference to his wife.