Editor’s Note: Jemimah Steinfeld is the author of the forthcoming book “Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China.” She works at London’s Asia House.
Chinese are so committed to Valentine's Day, they celebrate it twice.
Parks and parents play a big role in the Chinese dating scene.
Single men should head to the cities, women to the countryside.
Valentine’s Day is big currency in China, a nation obsessed with love, romance and dating.
In fact, the Chinese are so committed to the day they celebrate it twice. There’s qixi, China’s equivalent to Valentine’s Day, which takes place in August, as well as the global version coming up on Saturday. Both are embraced with gusto by couples across the country.
In the spirit of the season, we’ve put together a tongue-in-cheek guide to getting a date in China that also aims to shed a little light on the pursuit of love in the Middle Kingdom.
1) Head to a park. They’re a real-life Tinder
Every weekend in China a strange, albeit charming, ritual takes place – the parents of China’s singles frequent their local park in order to match make on behalf of their children. They bedeck the park’s trees with their offspring’s college photos and sheets of paper listing their key dating characteristics. Why not visit your local stretch of green this Saturday then? It’s the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone – meet your future love and your future in-laws.
2) If you’re from Beijing, work it
Remember that 1990s film “Green Card” starring Andie MacDowell and Gerard Depardieu? It did raise one key dating point – passports and permits matter. Nowhere else is this more so than in China, where one of the top assets people look for in a lover (after the oft-cited house and car) is whether they have a permit to the city they wish to live in. The hukou, as it is known, is tied to a host of social benefits. With it, your life is easy. Without it, not so much. If you happen to have a hukou that allows you to live in one of China’s premier cities, be sure to let lots of singles around you know.
3) Parents are a useful resource. They might even join on a date
The family remains the cornerstone of Chinese life – and love. Therefore, it stands to reason that parents/siblings/aunts/uncles/pets are very involved in everyone’s dating destiny. When not found in a park trying to “pimp” people out, they will be gossiping with neighbors, friends and co-workers about said person’s single status and how to change it. You can fight this centuries-old tradition or you can embrace it. The major catch? They might join you on a date. It’s not uncommon for relatives to chaperone their children on romantic soirees in China.
4) If you’re a single female, head to the countryside!
You’ve probably heard that China has more men than women (118 boys to 100 girls, to be precise). Then there’s the common cliché that Chinese women “marry up” and Chinese men “marry down.” The result is that supposedly “second-rate” men are being left out of the dating world altogether. These guang gun (bare branches), as they have kindly been named, typically reside in the countryside. Alpha males, by contrast, make their way to the city. The silver lining (if you’re female, that is)? There are now entire villages full of Romeos waiting for their Juliets.
5) If you’re a single man, head to the cities!
Following on from the above point, China’s alpha females reputedly struggle in love. If they’re single and over 27, they’re derided as sheng nu -- leftover. If they have a PhD, they’re not even regarded as a true woman. Instead, they go by the putdown “third gender.” If you see through these labels and the propaganda surrounding them, you’ll appreciate that China’s cities are full of some of the most savvy, intelligent and interesting women on the planet.
6) Go online!
By the end of 2014, 649 million Chinese were registered as online. Plenty see the Internet as love-line number one. China now has the largest number of online daters. The nation’s singles can peruse a buffet of sites, from those that promise to find you the one, to others that are more wired towards one-nighters (although the trend is much more towards the former than the latter).
7) Rent a boyfriend/girlfriend! Yep, you can do that online too
The pressure to wed has become so extreme in China that an entire industry has sprung up around faux dating. Take a tour of Taobao, China’s most popular online marketplace, and vying for your attention against countless cyber flower stalls and jewelry brands that emerge for Valentine’s Day are the stores that offer something more unusual – fake partners. For a price, your fake boyfriend/girlfriend will accompany you back to your parents, to the cinema, to dinner, anywhere you want really. They’ll play the part in every way except going all the way.
8) If you still feel unsure, call up a love guru
Do not despair – there are now love gurus in China, who, taking their cue from American TV show “The Game,” will offer men advice on how to successfully chat up women. Walk slightly in front and to the side of the person you wish to court – that’s just one tip taught in these classes. Other jewels include dressing better and spending less on the object of your affection (yes, you read that correctly).