Love is in the fair: Shanghai calls Cupid on "520"

Updated: 2015-05-15 11:17

By Li Xueqing in Shanghai(China Daily USA)

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 Love is in the fair: Shanghai calls Cupid on

A group of women attend a matchmaking event in Shanghai. [Gao Erqiang / China Daily]

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 "wu er ling." The phrase "I love you" reads "wo ai ni".

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 first-served basis. Application details were posted on the association's website. The only stipulation: customers must prove they are unmarried.

The matchmakers' one-stop 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 "sheng nu", 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 single-parent 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."