Laoshi has been working as a matchmaker for eight years, and in that time she’s
helped arrange hundreds of marriages—including her own. Three years ago her
future husband walked into her office and not only found a wife, but also found
a job in her company’s travel department. She ends the story with a satisfied smile.
‘That’s why I do this job.’
love can be hard, but finding love for a complete stranger—that’s easier, and
kind of fun. At the Shanghai Marriage Market, matchmaker Zhou Laoshi and I sit
behind two umbrellas resting on their sides, serving as makeshift tables to
display profiles of our clients. Hundreds of graying parents—some carrying
posters advertising their child’s vital statistics—shuffle through the rows of
matchmakers, reading profiles displayed on umbrellas, rolling suitcases, or
hanging on long strings.
profiles say nothing about ‘enjoying long, romantic walks on the beach’,
reading less like a personal ad and more like the statistics on the back of a
baseball card: Gender: male; Born: 77; Height: 175cm; Degree: bachelors; Job:
administrator in an international company; Earns: 260,000; Property: owns a car
and an apartment. In America,
earnings and property ownership are fourth or fifth or sixth date questions. I
still don’t know how much my wife earns. I should get my parents to ask.
asks me to hold a sign displaying copies of Shanghai Hongyan Matchmaking’s
business licenses. In early September the government shut down many unlicensed
matchmakers after receiving complaints that some profiles were fake or CVs
hadn’t been properly vetted. Matchmakers not only serve to connect, but also to
verify background like degrees and income. Asking a third party to verify
information is well worth the investment since I can’t count how many
candlelight dinners were ruined when I asked to see some ID.
a sign seems like a job an umbrella could do, but an umbrella lacks my natural
charisma and I manage to attract a steady stream of parents. Zhou smiles and
nods her approval as I begin taking contact information and arranging follow-up
meetings at a nearby office. She’s too absorbed speaking with other potential
clients to realize most of the parents are approaching me as a potential
husband. This has happened before. I once took my son to the marriage market so
he could establish a new benchmark for meddling parents. A matchmaker saw us
together and asked, ‘Single dad looking for new wife?’ I answered, ‘I’m not
single...but I’m listening.’
stooped, senior woman pushes a photo of a smiling young woman into my hands,
and tells me her daughter would be interested in a foreigner husband. I wonder
if her daughter told her this or if the mother is speaking for both since many
parents come to the marriage market without their child’s consent. One parent
after another tells me the same story of a child being too busy to meet anyone
because of work. Although parents dominate the marriage market, a matchmaker
tells me parents are the ones to initiate her services only half of the time.
I tell the woman I’m already married, she tells me to pass her daughter’s information
along if I have any foreigner friends who might be interested. She hands me a
slip with a phone number and statistics: Shanghainese; born in 1983; 7,000RMB
in savings; works for a Japanese company. I shake my head and tell the woman,
‘Seven thousand RMB is not near enough money to be worth leaving my wife.’ If my wife is reading this, I didn’t really
the day I read hundreds of profile papers, posters, cards and banners, and
based on a number of factors—including the salary and education of their
children—I make the very broad assumption that most of the parents at the
marriage market represent a lower income demographic. Also, many of the parents
and children were not born in Shanghai.
These are both generally considered disadvantages in attracting a partner. Some
parents tell me they have been coming to the market week after week for years.
matchmakers charge as little as 10RMB a month to display your kid’s information.
The highest percentage of prospective spouses were born in the early ‘80s and
the ‘70s. I find a few born in the early ‘90s, and this seems young to have
abandoned hope of finding someone on your own. I see many born in the ‘60s and
‘50s, and even some in the ‘40s. The oldest profile I find is a woman born in
1933. Is she widowed? Divorced? Never married? I would love to know her story.
impressions are important, and as I watch parents aggressively haggle with
other parents, I like to think I’m witnessing the first meeting between future
in-laws. Under those circumstances a Westerner might be inclined to strike a
conciliatory, compromising tone, but in China, haggling is the national
pastime, and you wouldn’t want a grandchild to descend from weak hagglers.
and I take contact information throughout the day and arrange follow-up
meetings for the coming week at one of Shanghai Hongyan Matchmaking’s three
offices staffed by 44 employees managing a portfolio of 6-7,000 prospective
spouses. At the office, Gon Laoshi shows me how she groups clients into
different folders based on ages and requirements. These files include copies of
passports, diplomas, birth certificate, CVs, a picture, and a survey of partner
Gon asks a client what she or he is seeking in a potential partner, she
confirms the stereotype that men usually ask for someone pretty, and women ask
for someone with money. I ask why the profiles ask for height, but never
weight. I’m not saying a woman’s weight is important—hip to bust to waist ratio
is more important than overall weight according to a survey of me—but if a
woman is going to be a stickler about your earnings, you might want to know
exactly how much your money is paying per kilo.
clientele is 55 percent women and two out of three are Shanghainese. In China there is
an unofficial ranking of most marriageable cities and provinces. Shanghainese
only want to marry other Shanghainese, but she can find someone for anyone if
that person is willing to look outside Shanghai.
It’s possible a match may take weeks or months, but she could find someone in
two days, and has even made a match in less than one. Even with expedited
shipping, not even Taobao could deliver a husband in less than a day.
the romantic, perhaps it sounds cynical to tell a matchmaker you’re not
interested in anyone outside Shanghai
or below a certain salary or professional level, but relationship experts say
the highest degree of erotic love doesn’t last longer than 18 months. As
intensity fades, agreement on lifestyle expectations, or whether you’ll live
near your parents in Shanghai or her parents in Anhui will be major
contributors to your long-term happiness. A matchmaker asks these unromantic
questions on your behalf so you can spend the next 40 years pretending you
romantic in all of us likes to hope love will happen organically. Perhaps today
is the day you’ll lock eyes with a handsome stranger on a train. But every
country has its inorganic matchmaking rituals from dating sites to speed dating
to religiously affiliated meet markets to blind dates. I met my wife on a blind
date, which I only agreed to because I was under the impression she would
literally be blind. My ideal woman is someone who doesn’t mind if I read a book
while she’s talking. Or doesn’t know.
ask what makes a good matchmaker, and I assume the answer will have something
to do with looking good in formal wear since Gon receives
dozens of wedding invitations a year. She tells me a good matchmaker needs to
communicate well with people, should stick to the customer requirements, and
should be willing to give an opinion when a match is not a good option.
thinks for a moment before adding, ‘You have to use your heart.’
For more details on Shanghai
Hongyan Matchmaking visit www.5000love.com