March 10, 2013

THE PRICE OF MARRIAGE IN CHINA:

“This is a good place to hunt,” she told me. “I always have good luck here.”

For Ms. Yang, Joy City is not so much a consumer mecca as an urban Serengeti that she prowls for potential wives for some of China’s richest bachelors. Ms. Yang, 28, is one of China’s premier love hunters, a new breed of matchmaker that has proliferated in the country’s economic boom. The company she works for, Diamond Love and Marriage, caters to China’s nouveaux riches: men, and occasionally women, willing to pay tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars to outsource the search for their ideal spouse.

In Joy City, Ms. Yang gave instructions to her eight-scout team, one of six squads the company was deploying in three cities for one Shanghai millionaire. This client had provided a list of requirements for his future wife, including her age (22 to 26), skin color (“white as porcelain”) and sexual history (yes, a virgin).

“These millionaires are very picky, you know?” Ms. Yang said. “Nobody can ever be perfect enough.” Still, the potential reward for Ms. Yang is huge: The love hunter who finds the client’s eventual choice will receive a bonus of more than $30,000, around five times the average annual salary in this line of work.

Ah, the progressive People’s Republic, where millionaires hire people to find them white-skinned virgins. But note this, too:

The marriage candidates on offer in the parks, she discovered, were often a mismatch of shengnu (“leftover women”) and shengnan (“leftover men”), two groups from opposite ends of the social scale. Shengnan, like her son, are mostly poor rural men left behind as female counterparts marry up in age and social status. The phenomenon is exacerbated by China’s warped demographics, as the bubble of excess men starts to reach marrying age.

Finding a Chinese spouse can be even more challenging for so-called leftover women, even if they often have precisely what the shengnan lack: money, education and social and professional standing.

That problem is everywhere, now.

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