Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

By Reuters/Christian Shepherd, Muyi Xiao   July 19, 2017 | 05:38 pm GMT+7
This law graduate who posed as a man's girlfriend for Lunar New Year says her experience illustrates the generational tensions over getting married in China.

Zhao Yuqing, a law graduate, said she was intrigued by the websites and mobile apps aimed at single people looking to hire an instant partner to present to relatives during the New Year holidays.

During the holidays, single men and women are often subjected to lectures from family members keen on reinforcing the importance of marriage and securing the family bloodline.

Some singles resort to hiring fake girlfriends and boyfriends through date-for-hire apps and websites.

Educated and attractive twenty-somethings can command fees of 3,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan ($436 to $1,453) a day over the busy festive period, according to mobile apps and websites seen by Reuters.

No kissing

Yuqing said in her online advertisement that she just wanted the experience of being a holiday companion and would only charge for travel costs.

Out of a pool of 700 respondents, Yuqing chose Wang Quanming, a website operator in his early thirties from the rural south.

"He is being pressured to find a wife and his need to rent a girlfriend is real," Yuqing told a photojournalist who approached her and Wang Quanming after seeing the online ad and learning about their agreement.

The photojournalist accompanied the couple for the duration of their trip.

Before setting off last January for Wang's family home in the hills of Fujian, they hammered out details of the false long-distance relationship to tell his parents, and set ground rules for the home visit.

There was to be no kissing, sleeping together or drinking alcohol, but she was ready to help with household chores, Yuqing and Quanming agreed in a handwritten contract seen by Reuters.

When the couple arrived, Quanming's mother, Nong Xiurong, tried to make Yuqing feel at home and respected her son's request to leave the two of them alone and not to ask questions about their relationship.

After the visit, Yuqing returned to Beijing and wrote a blog post on the social media app WeChat, saying she had a "wonderful experience" at Quanming's home.

"I wasn't angry."

Quanming said he decided to end the deception because he feared it could make the situation worse with his mother. He sent Yuqing's blog to Xiurong.

In a telephone interview, Xiurong told Reuters she was not upset by what had happened, and said she was moved by Yuqing's blog.

"At the start, I didn't know they were cheating me," she said. "I'm over 50. I don't understand what these young people get up to, but I wasn't angry."

Nevertheless, Xiurong said she still worries about her son finding a partner.

"My mother's core demand for me to marry early still exists," Quanming added.

For Yuqing, the experience highlighted how hard it is to resolve the generational tensions over marriage in China, where traditional notions remain strong in rural areas.

"The special situation in the village magnifies everything," Yuqing told Reuters. "They face a greater urgency to marry, so that makes it much harder to find a truly suitable other half."

Photos by Reuters/Muyi Xiao