By Michael Evans
As millions of young Chinese return home to a parental inquisition on their job prospects and plans to settle down, some women have taken to renting fake boyfriends to put their families at ease and spend the new year in peace.
As the Globe and Mail reports:
For many young women, showing up at home with a pleasant-looking, well-behaved boyfriend – even if your family never sees him again – is better than enduring two weeks of questions about why there’s no marriage or kids on the horizon. (China can be a deeply sexist society – women who are unmarried past the age of 30 are often referred to as “leftover women,” even in official media.)
On February 1, with less than ten days to go until the Chinese New Year, over 300 boyfriend-rental services were listed on online shopping giant Taobao. Rates range from several hundred to up to two thousand yuan per day, though the New York Times reports that many rental boyfriends charge additional fees for a laundry list of extra services:
This man, charging 800 renminbi ($128) a day, had a long list of extras: shopping (15 renminbi per hour or 150 a day, minimum two hours); chatting (10 renminbi an hour or 100 a day); watching a movie (10 renminbi an hour, double for horror films); attending parties (20 renminbi an hour, will not go to dangerous places).
And he charges for drinking, based on the spirit content (drinking alcohol is de rigueur for men at festive banquets): 100 renminbi per 100 milliliters of white spirits, 50 renminbi for 100 milliliters of red wine, 20 renminbi for 500 milliliters of beer.
Renting an imaginary partner for the holidays is not a new phenomenon. As early as 2007, university BBS forums have been filled with posts seeking significant others for the holidays, while in 2004 a Chengdu woman’s rental of New Year’s boyfriend to please her ailing father made headlines across the country.
While renters are eager to avoid unending questions about their marital future and a slew of awkward parent-arranged blind dates, rentees are eager to earn some extra money for the holiday and brush up on their dating skills. Some confess that they hope the arrangement will turn into something more than just business, as the Times found in 2010:
“It’s hard to choose between being an obedient son and meeting a pretty girl” willing to pay for his train tickets, meals and cigarettes, said Mr. Ma, a marketing professional from Shanghai. He justified the ruse by saying any possible rental-arrangement would bring him closer to his goal of eventually settling down.
“I want to gain some experience meeting a girl’s parents so that when I have a real girlfriend, I’ll know how to handle the situation,” he said.
Might these relationship-gigolos find love with their clients? One, Zhou Qihao, thinks not:
The women who can afford to hire him are simply out of his league.
“You know how it is in China,” he writes via instant messenger. “For a young man who doesn’t earn very much, talking about love is unrealistic.”