Glut of women at Shanghai's marriage market

CNN
Monday, November 4, 2013 - 11:02am

SHANGHAI (CNN) -- Liu Jianle smiles as he spots a potential suitor for his recently divorced niece among a sea of white personal ads pegged to a board.

Pencil in hand, he jots down the man's details -- 33 years old, 1.7 meters tall (5 feet 7 inches), 140 pounds, a property owner, divorced but no kids.

The only wrinkle is that his salary is $800 a month, not high by Shanghai standards. No matter, says Liu, his niece has a good job.

Welcome to Shanghai's marriage market.

Each weekend, mothers, fathers and, in Liu's case, concerned uncles, come to a sun-dappled corner of Shanghai's People's Park to find Mister or Miss Right for their children.

Some write posters by hand listing their offsprings' vital statistics -- height, age, income, education and their hukou or registered hometown -- and pin them to umbrellas or shopping bags. Others come with a notebook to see what is available.

Liu is a veteran. He found his son a wife here and they've been married for more than a year.

"She's 1.69 meters tall (5 feet 6 inches) and beautiful like a movie star," he says. "He was happy to get the introduction."

With young Chinese told to put education and work before finding love, many struggle to find boyfriends or girlfriends, a source of deep concern for their parents in a society which emphasizes the survival of the family line.

Worried family members are joined by professional matchmakers, who try to make a living from the unusual gathering.

The city even organizes an "annual love and marriage expo" to help young people find love that attracts 18,000.

"A lot of kids who were born after 1980, they don't have siblings. So they grow up in an environment where you don't have the experience to meet with people of the opposite sex," Song Li, the founder of an online dating service, told CNN at the event in May.

The market has been around since 2004, says Li, who runs a professional matchmaking service from the park. With almost three times as many women looking for partners than men, it can be difficult to make a successful match.

Men can register for free, while she charges a fee of $500 for her female clients.

She also has an age limit; men born after 1970 can sign up, but women must be under 33.

"There's a shortage of superior men," she says by way of explanation.

It's a similar story at Fan Dongfang's booth. He says he matches 20 to 30 people a year and brandishes a clutch of wedding invitations as if to prove it. He also has a glut of women on his books.

"There are too many leftover women in Shanghai," he says, using a popular term to describe an educated, single, urban women over the age of 27.

"Their standards are too high."

While the numbers stack up in favor of Chinese women -- according to the China Statistics Bureau, there are now 34 million more men than women in China -- this doesn't mean they will pair up easily.

Chinese men tend to "marry down" both in terms of age and educational level, observers say. Plus, many of China's unmarried men live in the countryside.

Distance is no obstacle to the parents' matchmaking ambitions, nor is their children's consent.

One mother displays a handwritten A4-sized poster in a clear plastic wallet seeking a match for her 36-year-old daughter, who works as an accountant in Toronto. The market has an "overseas corner" for parents who have children living abroad.

"I can't give you my name because my daughter doesn't know I'm doing this and I don't want her to find out," she says.

"I just want her to find someone with a stable job, who is tolerant and open-minded."

-- Additional reporting by CNN's Ivan Watson

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