BEIJING (Reuters) - Among the hundreds of millions of young Chinese couples heading back to family homes for the Lunar New Year holiday this week, some have a secret -- they are traveling not for love but money.
Young Chinese from smaller towns and villages still face withering parental pressure to marry in their early twenties, and some pay good money to hire the right type to bring home and please anxious parents, at least for a few vacation days.
This ‘rent-a-date’ trade springs up on China’s Internet bulletin boards around the week-long holiday, fueled by harried professionals looking for a pretend partner who will smile and say the right things.
“Girl friend wanted, will pay per day,” wrote one man surnamed Wang, on the popular Baidu website (tieba.baidu.com).
“Requirements: pretty, good body, around 1.6 meters, under 23 years old. Please contact me if you are interested.”
The 25-year-old, who declined to give his full name, grew up in a rural part of central China’s Henan province and now works in a steel plant in Chengde, a city north of Beijing.
Wang was still comfortably under the average age for marrying in big cities -- about 29 years old for men and 27 for women.
But coming from the rural backwoods -- where the average marriage ages are 23 and 22 years old respectively -- he faces pressure to pair up.
“I’ve just graduated from college and have no money. It’s unrealistic for me to date a girl,” he told Reuters. “But if I went home without a girlfriend, my parents will be worried about me.”
Wang said he had paid 80 yuan per day ($12) for his rented partner, as well as travel and accommodation costs.
Another single who advertised on another website (bj.58.com) said he paid 1,000 yuan ($150) to take a stranger he met online to his home in Liaoning province in the country’s cold northeast.
“I can’t bear the pressure from parents,” said the 37-year-old, who would only give his surname, Zhao.
“I don’t think it’s deceiving or immoral,” he said of the subterfuge. “It comes from goodwill.”
His rented partner did her job well, Zhao said.
“My parents were quite satisfied with her. So I paid an extra 500 yuan as a bonus.”
There is no lack of women also looking for a temporary escape from prodding parents.
“Because my parents are getting quite pushy, this year I want to find a high quality male partner to accompany me to my old home in Shandong for the festival,” said one aspiring Internet dater, referring to the province in eastern China.
“If you’re not sincere, don’t disturb my life, thank you.”
Editing by Chris Buckley and Gillian Murdoch