Love is in the fair: Shang­hai calls Cupid on “520”

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI XUEQING in Shang­hai lix­ue­qing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Match­mak­ing agen­cies in Shang­hai are go­ing all out to help sin­gles es­cape their lone­li­ness and find a part­ner with a slew of ac­tiv­i­ties or­ga­nized around May 20, a date that is spe­cially com­mem­o­rated in the city be­cause it sounds like “I love you” in Man­darin.

The an­nual “520” event has been or­ga­nized since 2011 by the Shang­hai Match­mak­ing Or­ga­ni­za­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion As­so­ci­a­tion. The Chi­nese char­ac­ters for th­ese three dig­its are “The phrase “I love you” reads “

This year’s itin­er­ary will in­clude do­mes­tic flights and cruises along the Huangpu River, just some of the ac­tiv­i­ties or­ga­nized in the month fol­low­ing this man-made aus­pi­cious date.

Noth­ing has been or­ga­nized for May 20 be­cause it falls on a week­day this year, when most sin­gles in Shang­hai are pre­oc­cu­pied with work and other non-ro­man­tic in­ter­ests.

A match­mak­ing trip set­ting out on May 22 will take 100 men and women on a three-day trip named “Love in the Sky” from Shang­hai to the tourist city of Xi­a­men in South China.

The trip costs 1,800 yuan ($290) per per­son with tick­ets sold on a first-come first­served ba­sis. Ap­pli­ca­tion de­tails were posted on the as­so­ci­a­tion’s web­site. The only stip­u­la­tion: cus­tomers must prove they are un­mar­ried.

The match­mak­ers’ on­estop ser­vice be­gins even be­fore the flight takes off. The par­tic­i­pants will start to in­ter­act while wait­ing at the ter­mi­nal. Dur­ing the flight, they are ex­pected to get to know one an­other bet­ter by play­ing games.

They will also form groups to ful­fill tasks while sight­see­ing, said Zhou Juemin, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s pres­i­dent.

Next up is a three-hour cruise along the Huangpu River in­clud­ing af­ter­noon tea and a buf­fet, giv­ing white col­lars a chance to meet their po­ten­tial mate.

Nearly 200,000 peo­ple have at­tended re­lated events over the last five years. This May a num­ber of smaller ac­tiv­i­ties have also been or­ga­nized which could prove more ef­fec­tive than grandiose or ex­pen­sive ef­forts, said Zhou, adding that th­ese pro­vide a more pre­cise match­ing ser­vice.

Among the 140,000 cou­ples reg­is­tered in the city last year, men mar­ried in their late 30s and women at 32 on av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial statis­tics.

This marks an im­por­tant cul­tural shift as, tra­di­tion­ally, un­mar­ried women over 30 have been la­beled “

or “left on the shelf” and there­fore un­de­sir­able to prospec­tive hus­bands.

“I hope I can meet my ideal woman dur­ing the Xi­a­men trip. The chances are 50-50,” said a man with the sur­name Wen, adding a typ­i­cally Chi­nese catch­phrase: “It de­pends on fate.”

The 31-year-old Shang­hai na­tive has seen two re­la­tion­ships fail be­cause of op­po­si­tion from the girls’ par­ents, show­ing just how tough it can be in Shang­hai for men to find a spouse.

“They weren’t sat­is­fied with my in­come or my height,” he said.

Many Shang­hainese will not con­sider a man to be hus­band ma­te­rial un­less he owns a house and car, or can demon­strate the po­ten­tial to do so.

Wen said a lot of par­ents in Shang­hai are un­bend­ing: their fu­ture son-in-law must earn at least 6,000 yuan a month and be no shorter than 1.7 me­ters.

In­ter­est­ingly, women in the city also com­plain about the high stan­dards har­bored by sin­gle guys. It seems as though, in an age of iPhones, Macbooks and con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion, no one is eas­ily sat­is­fied any­more.

“Many sin­gle men have rigid cri­te­ria,” said a woman with the sur­name Qian.

The 32- year- old, who boasts av­er­age looks and height, works for the hu­man re­sources depart­ment of a for­eign com­pany. She said she fails many “screen­ings” from po­ten­tial dates be­cause she comes from a sin­gle­par­ent fam­ily, which is still frowned-upon in China.

“Par­ents worry that I may have is­sues. They’re con­cerned about los­ing face by hav­ing a daugh­ter-in-law from a bro­ken fam­ily. I can un­der­stand their mis­giv­ings,” she said, show­ing a de­gree of hu­mil­ity that sug­gests she de­serves bet­ter in-laws.

It is not un­com­mon in Shang­hai for par­ents to match­make on be­half of their off­spring. Take a quick jaunt to Peo­ple’s Park on any given Sun­day and you may be shocked by the le­gions of el­derly peo­ple wav­ing plac­ards ad­ver­tis­ing their child’s height, age, in­come, ed­u­ca­tional back­ground and ex­pec­ta­tions.

One of the events or­ga­nized in May ac­tu­ally en­ables par­ents to get to­gether to chat. Part of the rea­son is to get more cou­ples set up.

Iron­i­cally, an­other part of the as­so­ci­a­tion’s mission is to ad­vise par­ents not to med­dle too much in their chil­dren’s af­fairs, no­tably dat­ing and mar­riage.

Qian has signed up for the cruise but said the chances of meet­ing her Mr Right are slim.

“The men who at­tend th­ese events are gen­er­ally younger than me and are out hunt­ing spring chick­ens,” she said, adding that she would be sat­is­fied if she could just make a good friend.

Nonethe­less, in the 30 to 44 age bracket, 9.8 per­cent of men in Shang­hai are sin­gle com­pared to just 6.6 per­cent of women. The gap has been nar­row­ing since 2000.

“So far we have more women signed up for the May events,” said Zhou. “In the first con­ven­tion, we had 20 men to 80 women, but now the ra­tio is about 45 to 55 per­cent.”

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

A group of women

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