Jun 9th 2012 | SHANGHAI | from the print edition

过去三十年间,中国人寻找伴侣的方式已经发生转变。然而,儒家思想强调婚姻的社会属性而不是其中的个人感受。尽管包办婚姻早已禁止了许多年,而父母和同事们依然延续着这种婚介方式。

ALTHOUGH 40,000 people gathered on May 26th and 27th for Shanghai’s Matchmaking Expo, Yu Bin doesn’t expect to find a wife among them. Mr Yu, a 26-year-old policeman, describes himself as conservative and is looking for a woman with “traditional virtues”. His attendance at the expo, the city’s largest yet, is a long shot; he would prefer a marriage set up by colleagues or by his parents. It worked for them 30 years ago, he says.

On the other side of the vast expo park, Fancy Huang is arguing with her mother. At 25, Ms Huang (who chose her English name herself) is two years shy of the dreaded age at which she will be branded a shengnu, or “leftover woman”. Her cousins are all married, so her parents are applying pressure. Ms Huang’s mother is stewing. “Sometimes my daughter says she would rather buy a flat by herself and live alone,” she says. “It’s so bizarre.”

Mr Yu and Ms Huang are just two of the thousands of young people trying to navigate China’s modern marriage market. At the expo there is no shortage of assistance. On one stage, a glamorous woman in a fuchsia minidress is hosting a public matchmaking session. A bachelor comes onstage and sings a song to 12 female contestants who hold up paddles with either a smiley or a sad face. Elsewhere, mass speed-dating events are under way. Dating agencies vie for singles to sign up. Their websites are wildly popular in China. One such site, Jiayuan, is listed on America’s NASDAQ stockmarket.

In the past 30 years the Chinese search for a spouse has, like so much else, been transformed. Confucian thought emphasised a match’s significance for society rather than for the individuals involved. Though formal arranged marriages were banned in 1950, parents and colleagues continued well into the new century to help couples pair up (some still do).

The recent decline of such practices, especially in cities, in favour of choosing your own mate, has coincided with huge demographic shifts. China’s skewed birth ratio (118 boys to every 100 girls) means that there will be a surplus of about 24m bachelors by 2020. And women’s increasing socio-economic freedom makes them pickier when choosing a husband.

Mr Yu, the traditionalist, remains hopeful. “We just haven’t been in the right place at the right time,” he says of his putative partner. Other bachelors are less patient. Last month, the “Multi-Millionaire Seeking Spouses in Ten Cities Show” launched in the southern city of Guangzhou. Eleven Chinese millionaires are paying a luxury matchmaking agency 5m yuan ($790,000) for assistance. One of them, a billionaire, has particular requirements: suitable candidates should be aged 20-26, weigh less than 50kg (110lb) and have no sexual experience. So far more than 5,000 young women have applied.

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