In Shanghai's Thames Town – a bizarre suburban re-creation of a traditional British town, complete with mock-tudor architecture – elbows are sharp on day one of an inaugural matchmaking expo, an event formulated to tackle the city's burgeoning number of lonely hearts. At 10.30am, uniformed guards stem a swarm of hopefuls trying to enter the main hall where people crane at the boards and scribble in notebooks.
Outside, red velvet-lined tables are privy to a mass speed dating event. In the church square, unofficial match–making markets have sprung up, with pieces of paper scrawled with telephone numbers attached to fences.
Thousands of singletons gathered at the expo at the weekend, an event so popular that organisers halted online registration after double the expected number signed up. Estimates of those attending ranged from 10,000 to 40,000. Timed to coincide with Singles' Day, an annual commemoration for those looking for love on 11 November (the "ones" in the numerical date represent "bare sticks", a term for "bachelors"), this year's date was all the more auspicious because six "ones" in Mandarin sounds like the idiom "one life, one lifetime" or "forever".
In downtown Shanghai, 24.3% of people over the age of 15 are unmarried, a rise of 1.6%, according to the Shanghai municipal statistics bureau. In far-flung areas, the figures are even more startling: just 11.9% of over 15s are unmarried in Chongming county.
A lack of young women – a result of the skewed rate of baby boys born under China's one-child policy – means an estimated 30 to 50 million men will be without a wife in 20 years.
But Damon Tu, 35, isn't giving up hope yet. "I feel a lot of pressure because I'm not married, but I'm a traditional guy so I believe one day I'll find the love of my life," says the media advertising sales manager from Shanghai. Dressed in skinny jeans and a blazer, Tu browses the booths of about 50 matchmaking companies in the town hall. Red glitter and pink balloons abound. Wet Wet Wet's Love Is All Around blasts from speakers.
"Meeting new people is easy, but finding someone to marry is complicated," he says. "Girls want to better their standard of living by finding someone who is rich, well-educated and has a well-paid job and a car."
On the thousands of cards lining eight-foot billboards throughout the hall, details of hopefuls' height, birth date and education are accompanied by annual income.
"The standards people require of a partner have changed with modern dating; the importance placed on material factors is increasing," says Zhai Zhenwu, vice director of the school of sociology and population studies at Renmin University in Beijing. "An apartment is now commonly required to broker a marriage. If a man doesn't own an apartment, it's an obstacle for him, even if he loves his girlfriend very much." For those in their late 20s and early 30s, there is also pressure to produce an heir and many of the singletons are accompanied by their parents. "My father is very worried because, as I'm 29, soon it might be difficult for me to get pregnant," says Huang Yushu, a translator for a manufacturing company. "Last year I was really anxious about not being able to get married. I go from resigned to anxious ridden, back to resigned. My dad wanted me to come here just to try it out. I've already tried matchmaking websites. Dad pays the fees."
Strikingly, in the town hall the number of singletons around the blue cards is double those scanning the pink. When it comes to the male-to-female singleton ratio, Shanghai is beginning to buck the national trend. Here the number of older single women (30-44) outstrips older single men, according to the Shanghai bureau of statistics. Between 2000-2010, the number of older unmarried men dropped by 2.2% while that of older unmarried women increased by 3.2%.
"The problem is all the good candidates are already married," says Haung. "Women like me aged 28-35 are in the 'awkward stage'." Huang says men prefer younger women who are "less capable" than herself, something backed by a survey of 30,000 men conducted by the All-China Women's Federation in which 90% said women should marry before 27.Single women over 27 are known as sheng nu, or "leftovers".
"In Chinese society, women prefer to marry men who are older, wealthier and more capable; men prefer the opposite," says Zhai. "So in cities, those left behind are seen as the 'best women and worst men' [highflying women; underachieving men]."
Huang leaves the expo alone. She says she recently met a man online, but doesn't hold much hope. "There's a belief that if you pick the wrong person, you will be wronged for life. Marriage, to us Chinese, is meant to be forever and eternal. I'm starting to think I've been too traditional."
by Nicola Davison taken from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/13/shanghai-matchmaking-event-huge-crowds