A pickup artist talks his students through the delicate methods of wooing women, at a shopping mall in downtown Shanghai. Some men are paying up to 4,500 yuan to attend three-day boot camps and workshops that teach how to interact better with women in social situations. Yong Kai / China Daily
Singles turn to relations experts and pickup artists to boost chances of finding love. Hu Yongqi and Duan Yan in Beijing and Liu Ce in Shenyang report.
Shen Cai is a major player when it comes to business and has made millions from publishing and real estate in Beijing. Yet, for years he struggled to have any success with the ladies.
Last year, to impress a woman he met at a banquet, he treated her to a 10,000-yuan ($1,500) dinner and sent her fresh flowers to her desk every morning. The woman quit her office job shortly after.
"Although I was talented in business, all I knew about love was what I'd seen in romantic movies," said the 33-year-old. "I didn't figure on scaring the girl off."
Studies show that China's 180 million single men and women, particularly those aged 25 to 45, are finding it increasing difficult to find partners. To boost their chances, more are turning for help from pickup artists to master the art of seduction.
A survey of 32,676 people for the 2010 National Report on Marriage found more than 19 percent feel clueless about the opposite sex and are desperate for guidance from relationship experts.
Shen's fortunes changed the day he came across Wu Jiamin, a well-known pickup artist in Beijing who goes by the name of Tango. He taught the businessman theory and chatup skills, as well as how to choose the right candidates.
Originating in the United States, courses that offer lessons in seduction are growing in popularity in major cities, such as Beijing and Guangzhou.
"Some Chinese people are extremely short of education and skills in love. The pickup artist programs provide them with new ways to approach women they like," explained Tango. "There are only 10 people who can be categorized as professional pickup artists in Beijing. We believe more people will come to us to learn."
Some men pay up to 4,500 yuan to attend three-day boot camps and workshops that teach how to woo women in social situations. Tango added that large numbers of single men are also swapping tips on the Internet, such as at paoxun.com, a major dating advice platform with more than 210,000 registered users.
However, Tango stressed that those shy and unconfident men turning to pickup coaches are largely looking to forge long-term relationships, rather than "hunting for beauties".
"People should be honest when they're looking for a date," said Xia Xueluan, a sociologist at Peking University. "If not, any relationship is unlikely to last."
Rules of engagement
Ruan Qi, 41, is the author of Magic Icebreakers for Pursuing Girls, which he wrote based on his experiences over 10 years in Beijing and Guangzhou. He also runs weekend pickup courses in the capital's Chaoyang district, costing 2,800 yuan.
"My point is that men should have the courage to be themselves in front of women, but the woman always has the final say," he said. "If she feels comfortable, the conversation will continue and a relationship could be developed."
He said he has coached roughly 500 men one-on-one since 2008, while more than 40,000 more regularly interact on his website.
So-called "love doctors" like Ruan, whose book sold about 10,000 copies, say their industry is enjoying boom times, with many similar services being launched nationwide.
And it is not just men; women too are also increasingly seeking guidance after growing impatient waiting for "Mr Right".
Wang Xiyu was one of 16 single and divorced women, mostly in their 20s and 30s, who recently attended a discussion group on the "Ability to Love" at Taida Time Center in Beijing's central business district.
"Why can't I find a nice guy, even after so many blind dates?" she asked the group, led by counselor Zhao Yongjiu. "It's just too difficult for me to meet a guy that I have feelings for. Is it my problem?" added Wang, 28, whose last and only relationship ended in December after just five months.
Zhao, who authored a self-help book called Marry a Good Husband, has advised more than 300 single women in the past two years. He tells them that finding the right partner takes time, but stresses that there needs to be a limit. "Two years, five years; whatever they like, but they must set a time limit for their search," he said. "I tell people that there'll never be a person who is 100-percent ideal."
Singles should also not set standards too high, he said. "Some women are looking for a guy who is at least five years older than them, while some want a guy with a zodiac sign that matches theirs."
After seven years of a difficult marriage, Zhao studied psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2008 to better understand the nature of relationships. Once he graduated, he started running training courses for 2,880 yuan.
"Some women simply give up when they see a flaw in their partner, that's why about 39 percent of Beijing couples married for three years got divorced in 2010," he said. "So many couples never try to work out the conflicts and resort to divorce."
Official data shows 7.79 million couples registered to marry with civil affairs bureaus nationwide in the first three quarters of last year. More than 1.3 million registered to divorce over the same period.
Wang Zhiguo at the Baihe Marriage Research Institute welcomed the increase in help for singles but warned the country also needs more professionally qualified counselors to offer relationship advice to couples.
In the US, there are 20 qualified counselors for every 10,000 people. By contrast, 370 million Chinese couples have access to just 831 counselors nationwide.
Spying an opportunity
Experts say that traditional attitudes and a lack of time are the biggest obstacles facing young people in their search of partners.
Almost 60 percent of those polled for the 2010 National Report on Marriage said their social interactions are limited to a small group of friends and colleagues, with about 42 percent said they do not actively pursue mates. (The China Association of Marriage and Families Research and Baihe Marriage Research Institute published the report last December.)
"I'm busy with work; also I'm shy and don't know where to meet guys out of my work circle. My introverted personality is a big obstacle, too," complained Beijing nurse Liu Zhiming, 30. "I also don't see why women should take the initiative. If she does, men won't take her very seriously."
Such concerns are held by many of those who sign up to Lu Ye's training courses for single women (this year's will be in South China's Guangdong province). For 57,000 yuan, he promises to teach students how to start an intimate relationship with a man within 70 days.
The program is based on strict military-style techniques and is mainly about getting to know men in a short amount of time. Lu compares his course to spy training.
"In extreme cases, a good spy can get to know a lot of key information about a subject in just 15 minutes," he explained. "An average woman wouldn't even find any important information from a guy she lived with for three or four years."
After seven days of theory, Lu requires each trainee to complete "field assignments", which involves going to hotspots for potential husbands to get a list of at least nine candidates.
"Some go out for job interviews, some go traveling, some go to study abroad," he said before boasting that one student, who was 28, successfully managed to marry a billionaire after taking his course.
For the vast majority of his clients, marriage is the goal, he said. "Even a millionaire I taught wanted to marry a man richer than her. None of these women ever wanted their husbands to find out they took lessons, of course."
However, when it comes to pickup training for men, Lu suggested they do not start too early and instead focus on their careers. "If men really want to learn, it's more appropriate for them to learn after they are 30," he added. "Women, however, need to start searching for husbands much earlier."
The names of some interviewees have been changed on request.
Zhao Yongjiu during a counseling session in Beijing. He has advised more than 300 single women in the past two years. Zhao Yongjiu / for China Daily
Pickup artist Tango (right) talks to two men about dating skills. Zhang Tao / China Daily