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In China, Social Changes Create Booming Business for Matchmakers

Whether you’re a magnate or a menial worker, nowadays it’s vastly more difficult to find a spouse in China.

In the wake of rapid modernization, wealth inequality has spiked, more women are pursuing careers, the skewed gender gap has produced a growing surplus of single men, and family and social networks have frayed as millions of rural Chinese have moved to cities. However, despite all these changes, traditional criteria for selecting a spouse haven’t budged (youth and beauty for women, material assets for men), and fierce competition has left many among the shengnu  or shengnan—unmarried “leftovers.”

Fortunately, societies going through hugely destabilizing transitions often swiftly adapt and repurpose old traditions. In this case, China’s age-old practice of matchmaking is receiving a boost from capitalism. While the lower classes turn to open-air markets, where parents swap makeshift advertisements for their adult children, China’s nouveaux riches can afford to outsource their search, as the New York Times reports:

Dozens of high-end matchmaking services have sprung up in China in the last five years, charging big fees to find and to vet prospective spouses for wealthy clients. Their methods can turn into gaudy spectacle. One firm transported 200 would-be trophy wives to a resort town in southwestern China for the perusal of one powerful magnate. Another organized a caravan of BMWs for rich businessmen to find young wives in Sichuan Province. Diamond Love, among the largest love-hunting services, sponsored a matchmaking event in 2009 where 21 men each paid a $15,000 entrance fee.

The services of these aggressive and seasoned “love hunters” can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the one who finds the client’s choice often receives a large bonus. With the booming matchmaker industry staffed and run almost entirely by women, though, the bonus-winner runs a greater risk of being a loser in the marriage market. Americans may be coming around to celebrating their new roles for house husbands and stay-at-home dads, but in China it’s still considered emasculating for a man to be out-learned or out-earned by his wife.

Brook Larmer’s piece is a fascinating look into how the Chinese are grappling with all these new complications. Read the whole thing. 

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