Unmarried women aged over 28 in China are considered over the hill, so how can the country's 'leftover' women find love?
Airdate: 
Tuesday, September 18, 2012 - 21:30
Channel: 
SBS One

Even in a country that's home to more than 200 million single people, finding love in China can be tough.

More and more women are putting their careers ahead of finding a partner, and in Chinese tradition unmarried women older than 28 are considered over the hill.

And even though there are 118 men to every 100 women in China, they're still finding it hard to meet a partner.

Adrian Brown explores this phenomenon caused as the ambitions of the west meet the traditions of the east.

He finds that online dating and matchmaking parties are becoming increasingly popular, while some parents have become so desperate they take details of their single children around 'marriage markets' in the hope of finding the perfect match.

So what's the answer for China's 'leftover' lovers?

WATCH - Click to see Adrian's story.

Transcript

One little reported aspect of China's remarkable economic success is the rise of Chinese women in business and enterprise. A third of the nation's millionaires are women - some 500,000 of them. But it seems these successful women have trouble finding a husband in conservative China. Women are expected to conform to old marriage traditions that dictate they should wed young, and not be too independent. As Adrian Brown reports, matching self-made women with a partner has become big business.

REPORTER: Adrian Brown

It's Valentine's Day in Chengdu, and preparations are well under way for an unusual event - a matchmaking party to find husbands for some of the city's single female millionaires. These women are part of China's new elite - the super-rich, who seem to have it all. But when it comes to love, they're victims of their own success.

REPORTER: How many applications have you had?

JOHNNY DU: We have received over 5000 applications;.

Johnny Du is the man playing Cupid tonight.

REPORTER: And how many will be here tonight?

JOHNNY DU: And after all the screening and selection eventually we picked 51 gentlemen to attend this event.

REPORTER: So, 51 men and 51 women?

JOHNNY DU: Yes.

Among the arriving potential husbands are local civil servants, a judge, and a senior policeman.

REPORTER: Johnson, why have you come here?

JOHNSON XIE: To find a partner for life.

Johnson Xie is 26, and works in IT. He's wearing badge number eight - the luckiest number of all in China.

REPORTER: Well, if you're lucky, you could end up with a millionairess.

JOHNSON XIE: Yes, but I'm doing pretty well myself, so I don't want - that's not particularly my consideration.

REPORTER: So, money is not an issue?

JOHNSON XIE: Not really, not really, no.

REPORTER: So ideally, you'd like to find a woman who's 26 or under?

JOHNSON XIE: I have to be honest here that actually Chinese girls, women, they psychologically grow older than Western girls.

China will soon be the world's biggest economy. It's already home to 1.5 million millionaires - a third of them women. But far from being considered a catch, China's ambitious modern woman is finding few prospects in the marriage market.

SONG (Translation): A woman's desire is to have a car and a house.

Marrying the right man is our biggest dream.

My mum wants to know the size of your savings account.

If you have no car and no house, you'd better get out of my way.

I have a car and I have a house, I also have money in the bank.

If you aren't as competent as me, don't live off me, I'm not your mother.

It's a social contradiction that's inspired this song.

DENG FENG (Translation): Take this pot of flowers over there.

Deng Feng is a millionaire entrepreneur who made her fortune by selling furniture.

REPORTER: What is the downside of being a very wealthy single woman in China today?

DENG FENG (Translation): I think being a wealthy single woman is likely to be seen as a strong woman. This may create a negative impression and impact on the success of my pursuit of love.

In China, a woman who fails to succeed in love by the time she turns 28 is branded 'leftover'. But at 42 and single, Ms Deng says she won't be deterred from the search to find a husband.

REPORTER: Are men afraid of a strong woman in China?

DENG FENG (Translation): I don't think they are afraid. What happens is that in Chinese tradition men were regarded as superior too women so when a female entrepreneur is strong at work, she may also appear strong at home by habit. The man isn't afraid but finds it very hard to adjust.

Hoping that tonight, at the matchmaking party, her fortunes might change, Deng Feng wants to look her best.

REPORTER: Excited?

DENG FENG (Translation): Exciting; A little.

If I can be seen as a representative of the so-called 'leftover women' in China, I take it as a great honour.

Ms Deng is an old friend of Johnny Du, CEO of one of China's top free internet dating sites. Online dating is big business in China - one is even listed on the Nasdaq stock market.

JOHNNY DU: The Chinese government published a report and it said currently there are nearly 200 million singles in China.

REPORTER: 200 million? Wow!

JOHNNY DU: Yeah. 200 million, singles in China and also and it keeps growing....

It's a social time bomb. China's skewed gender imbalance means there are currently 118 men for every 100 women. Yet despite the shortage of women, Chinese men remain very picky.

JOHNNY DU: Chinese men normally don't want to date women older than themselves.

REPORTER: So if you're a woman whose single and is 30 or over; you're considered 'leftover'?

JOHNNY DU: Correct. A recent survey said that if you are older than 28, you are called a 'leftover' woman or 'leftover' man.

REPORTER: Why?

JOHNNY DU: It's just a tradition - Maybe the pressure from peers and from society. If you date an older woman -older than you, probably the people around you will look down on you.

Traditionally in China, happiness depends upon marriage. And so, for some parents, getting their adult children married off is an obsession. At this Beijing park, desperate parents hold a marriage market several times a week. Here, parents post details about their unmarried children in the hope they'll find a match.

WOMAN: It says he's thirty-three and born in the Year of the Horse and he is a chef.

REPORTER: Chef?

WOMAN: Yeah.

REPORTER: So each one of these is a personal biography?

WOMAN: Yeah, and like how tall they are and how heavy they are, their educational background and income.

REPORTER: I've never seen this before.

MR PANG: this is a very free area and no money exchanged for anybody who wants to get a partner or fiancé or to get married;it's a good place.

Mr Pang tells me that he's looking for a husband for his daughter.

MR PANG: She is now 36 years old, she is working in London.

KATHERINE ZHOU: I said, "œI'm still not married." And then they said "œOh, you are too critical, that's why you couldn't find Mr Right."

Katherine Zhou is 35 and a civil engineer but like Deng Feng, she's considered a 'leftover' woman.

REPORTER: Do you feel sad sometimes?

KATHERINE ZHOU: Yes of course, I just wish the people never look at the single woman as a strange kind of human being in the world. I think the world is changing so fast, everything is changing and I'm satisfied in this moment and I'm also satisfied and also looking forward to;. to having my own family.

She says she spent most of her 20s and 30s working on her career. Now, she admits, she struggles to get a date.

KATHERINE ZHOU: They said "œOkay, one day when you are retired, if there's nobody around you, if you get sick - who will take care of you?" this is always the kind of thoughts from my parents' side.

Katherine tells me that though she and her friends haven't given up hope of finding true love, they're not willing to compromise on who they are for a partner.

REPORTER: Do you think men find you intimidating?

KATHERINE ZHOU: I think the men do, or did. But maybe after that maybe they think I'm too independent.

REPORTER: They think you are too independent?

KATHERINE ZHOU: Possible, yeah. At least I learned from my ex-boyfriend.

REPORTER: He told you that?

KATHERINE ZHOU: Yeah, he told me.

REPORTER: Do you think you are?

KATHERINE ZHOU: I think I'm independent, because my parents educated me by this way. Even though I'm a girl, but my parents tell me, "Even though you're a girl, you should do everything - try to do everything by yourself."

REPORTER: Now tell me - what sort of woman do Chinese men want?

KATHERINE ZHOU: I think from my experience, I think they prefer the woman is ;. Beauty, first must be beauty. And second, that they are a little bit;. Not that smart - you need to have a certain education but not too much. Not too much smart.

REPORTER: Submissive?

KATHERINE ZHOU: Yeah, I should say like this and I think they also prefer the girl is;. conservative. I think this is very important.

JOHNNY DU: Finding a perfect match is always a challenge for any person, for any couples.

Matchmaker Johnny Du says it's not only Chinese men who are choosy about potential partners.

JOHNNY DU: Women are picky, they are really picky. They want the man to be very rich, young, handsome and also rich, handsome and educated, and they also be good;. Be good to them.

Back at the matchmaking party, it's speed dating, Chinese style.

DENG FENG (Translation): The introduction was way too fast, I don't remember any names of those men, who they are or what they look like.

But before long, things begin to look hopeful for Ms Deng. She appears to be hitting it off with number 46 - a businessman from Beijing. All too soon, the dinner is drawing to a close. The smile on Ms Deng's face suggests the evening was a success. But has she found love?

DENG FENG (Translation): Well, I think;.it's kind of a romantic night. I enjoyed celebrating the Chinese Valentine's Day. It's meaningful. We may not turn out to be boyfriend and girlfriend but at least I made a few more friends.

Reporter/Camera
ADRIAN BROWN

Producer
VICTORIA STROBL

Fixer
XU WEI

Editors
ANTOINETTE FORD
MICAH MCGOWN

Translations/Subtitling
JING HAN

Original Music Composed by

VICKI HANSEN

18th September 2012