Q&A: Chinese dating consultant Zhou Xiaopeng
Zhou Xiaopeng, a consultant at one of China's top three dating agencies, Baihe.com, talks to the BBC about marriage, love and dating in today's China.
Q: Why do parents play such an important role in relationships between Chinese couples?
A: In China, if you get married, you don't just marry a person. You also marry the person's family. It's important whether you get along with your mother-in-law. A person's family background decides what the person is like. Knowing this person's family means knowing the person's personality.
Q: Why are so many singles in China having trouble finding the right one?
A: There are about 0.2 billion people at the right age for marriage, looking for a partner. We always say it's harder for women to find the right man. The reason is that women are becoming stronger now in all aspects, including in their work, studies and hobbies. They have surpassed traditional men in many ways.
On the other hand, the main group of people who are seeking marriages are born in the 1980s. In single-child families [China has had a one-child policy since 1979], boys are overprotected, so some of men's abilities have degraded, such as their sense of responsibility, their ability to do house chores and socialise, so when a woman looks for a strong and responsible man, she doesn't have many choices.
Men are less responsible but more free now. They want to enjoy life and enjoy freedom. More men are reluctant to enter a marriage. They want to play around, instead of being trapped by a family, so the number of men who want to be married is reduced even more.
Also, for most men, they always want to find young and pretty women. No matter if they are in their 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, they always find women under 30 years old, so many women in their late 20s have an even harder time looking for marriage partners. I have friends who are from 28 to 30 years old. Men who want to date them are as old as more than 40 years old, so these women have a big chance to be left behind.
Q: What kind of pressure do women in their late 20s face in China?
A: All kinds of pressure, mostly from family, society, hopes for a stable life and the need to survive. Parents and relatives, especially during the Chinese New Year, all come to ask you whether you are getting married or if you have a boyfriend. You get all kinds of attention. Parents will feel ashamed. In China, parents are ashamed of the fact that their children are not married when they are around 28 to 32 years. Parents will urge them to get married
In China, we have lots of dating shows on TV stations, websites and radio stations. You see people dating all the time, and it gives invisible pressure to people. They see others are busy with dating, but they themselves are not doing anything. This is the social pressure they are getting. You also get pressure from the colleagues around you. You receive marriage candies every day [traditional gifts from people getting married]. You would start asking yourselves why you are left behind. You will wonder if it's because you are not good enough.
People move from cities to cities in Chinese society. Southerners come to the north, and northerners come to the south. You feel lonely very often. People are group creatures and you can imagine the frustration of not finding someone to marry. Also, people from big cities like Beijing and Shanghai are very biased against outsiders. Our survey found that 60% of locals are reluctant to marry people from other cities.
Q: What's the mentality women have when they want to rent a boyfriend to go home for Chinese New Year?
A: First, they'll ask: "Oh it's Chinese New Year, should I go home?" Then they'll ask: "If I go home, my father, my mother, my brother, my sister, all of them will ask me if I have boyfriend. It's such a tough question." Third: "How should I answer them? Should I tell them I'm not seeing anybody? No, they'll start giving me pressure. They will urge me to find somebody. If I tell them I've found someone, then they'll start asking who this person is, where he works, what kind of person he is, etc. I should just find a fake boyfriend."
You can imagine a scene where people sit around a table. Chinese love to get together for dinner. During New Year's Eve, everybody is sitting in pairs, your brother with your sister-in-law, your sister with your brother-in-law etc. You are the only one left behind. Other relatives also will come in pairs. Even your little brothers or sisters in college may have girlfriends and boyfriends, so you can imagine the pressure and frustration.
Renting a boyfriend to take home is the worst strategy. It's a solution out of no solutions. In Chinese families, there is no equal communication between parents and children. Parents always force children to do things, so it's hard for children to say that they haven't found someone and they are still looking. Parents won't listen to why their children can't find anybody. Parents only care about the outcome. If you don't have someone, you don't have someone, so it's a solution after sensible contemplation.
One of my customers once told me something that breaks my heart. She told me her father told her to just marry a man. It could be anyone. Even if you have to divorce later. At least it gives him somebody.
Q: How does your consultancy help customers?
A: First, I ask them to let parents know how you are doing. In China, lots of children refrain from telling their parents about bad things, like the pressure they get from work. They choose to only tell them good news. One should tell his or her parents about the good and bad things, and let parents know their situations.
Second, I ask them to tell their parents the efforts they have been making towards getting a good marriage. Tell them the dating services you are using, and the singles party you've been going to.
Third, I ask them to understand that parents only rush their marriage because they care about them, so it's good to comfort their parents, and assure them that they'll see a happy marriage.
Q: Does the one-child policy play a role in this phenomenon?
A: The one-child policy of course gives all of us pressure, but it's just one of the reasons. The main reason is that China has a tradition for women and men to get married at a certain age. When they reach their 20s, parents have already started worrying, so traditions ask us to get married. If you don't get married, it means you are not good enough. The pressure to be "good" is far more than what you get from the one-child policy.
Q: Is this going to get better soon?
A: In the future, of course, this pressure will decline, but it depends on how civilised we are and how harmonious our family is. We get pressure from the media, and the concept of "completion" and "harmony". If it improves, it'll be because of the better communication parents have with their children. Parents are not so tough any more. When people born in the 80s or 90s become parents, they won't want to impose the same pressure they endured when they were young. It'll probably take 20 to 30 years.