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.
Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing rides in a car on her way to Beijing airport for a flight to Wang Quanming's hometown, in Beijing, China, January 26, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming poses for a photograph near the family home where he lived until he was 15 years old, in Anxi county, Fujian province, China, January 30, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing takes a nap at Beijing airport as she waits for her flight to Quanzhou to meet Wang Quanming in Beijing, January 26, 2017. The purple bag contains a Peking duck and snacks Zhao bought as gifts for Wang's mother.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing and Wang Quanming (R) play with a dog at the apartment where Zhao stayed for a night in the city of Quanzhou Fujian province, January 26, 2017. They drove to Quanming's hometown the next morning.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Before driving to Wang Quanming's hometown, Zhao Yuqing writes down her conditions for posing as Wang Quanming's girlfriend during their three-day visit with Wang's family, January 26, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming's mother Nong Xiurong greets Zhao Yuqing when she arrived in Wang's hometown on January 27, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Vegetables lie on the floor of a storage room in Wang Quanming's family home on January 28, 2017. Wang's parents cleaned the entire house before Zhao arrived.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming's parents pose for a photo in front of their house on January 29, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming (not pictured) takes a photograph of Zhao Yuqing at the table where she would have her first meal in Wang's family home on January 27, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing (C) checks her mobile phone during a meal with Wang Quanming's family on January 27, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing picks bean pods with Wang Quanming on January 27, 2017. Zhao said she had never been to a rural area and that was one of the reasons why she chose Wang over other applicants.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing points to a pig during a visit to a farm in Wang Quanming's hometown on January 27, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming's aunt watches Wang and Zhao Yuqing as they talk before joining a family Spring Festival ritual.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming takes pictures as Zhao Yuqing plays with fireworks on the eve of the Spring Festival on January 27, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing takes pictures of fireworks on the eve of Spring Festival at Wang Quanming's hometown on January 27, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing and Wang Quanming drink tea as Wang's family play cards on January 27, 2017.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming's mother (R) gives a pack of tea leaves to Zhao Yuqing as a gift before Zhao leaves Wang's hometown on January 29, 2017. Anxi is located in a famous Chinese tea producing area.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

A red blanket sits in a closet in Wang Quanming's family home on January 29, 2017. Wang's mother had offered the blanket to her son in hopes that it would be used by the couple. The colour red symbolizes celebration and joy during the new year festive season. Wang and Zhao Yuqing did not use the blanket and stayed in separate beds during the visit.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Wang Quanming and Zhao Yuqing go for a walk on the day of the Spring Festival.

Journey of a fake girlfriend: Chinese blogger unveils marriage pressures

Zhao Yuqing, Wang Quanming (C) and Wang's brother ride in a car after leaving Wang's family home on January 30, 2017. Zhao spent three days with Wang's family during the Spring Festival.

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

 
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