SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Li Wenqi decided that it was time to take marriage more seriously than her career - especially with her parents gently pushing her in that direction.
So the 30-year-old Shanghai export sales executive went to a matchmaking firm, one of thousands that have sprung up to help young Chinese, busy with work and trying to please fussy parents, find their better half in the face of a gender imbalance.
“I feel it is better late than never for me to be considering marriage at this time. I have to seize the opportunity,” Li said.
“But my parents are a little nervous because they feel that women at this age should already be married and even have kids.”
In traditional Chinese society, marriages were arranged by families and matchmakers and tying the knot was never in question. Although customs are changing rapidly, the one-child policy in modern China piles on even more pressure on children to get on with the business of producing offspring.
Matchmaking events are increasingly common, with eager singles - often accompanied by concerned parents - gathering in parks on the weekends to search for love among personal information strung up on trees and notice boards.
Television dating shows such as “If You Are the One,” in which men have 20 minutes to sell themselves to 24 female guests, have become wildly popular, spawning similar programs on television stations across the nation.
Matchmaking companies have stepped in, riding the wave of popularity of such shows and traditional Chinese parental pressure, to cash in on the marrying business.
“Over the past two years, with the popularity of television dating shows, people have become more aware and educated about matchmaking,” said Sunny Ouyang, the founder and chief executive of Shanghai-based matchmaking company 5QChina.com.
“Marriage is a very important event in one’s life, but overall, families and society still don’t put a strong enough emphasis on it.”
Ouyang, who began her business as a dating website, now holds dating workshops for singles and provides one-on-one tutoring in the finer points of romance for members, who pay from a few thousand yuan to tens of thousands of yuan (hundreds to thousands of U.S. dollars) for the privilege.
In addition, her firm holds outings for singles and runs customized courses to help members understand themselves better, as well as building their social and dating skills.
“(Our members) have basically had some kind of experience in a romantic relationship. For example, perhaps they have just broken up, and they come to join us, or perhaps they have been through a divorce,” Ouyang said.
Most of her members are white-collar workers in their late 20s or early 30s, who were unable to find love in their limited work and social circles. And despite there being more men than women in China, generally the odds favor the men at any event.
Census data shows a rise in the percentage of older single women over the last decade, while the percentage of older single men has fallen, according to the China Daily - which experts said might be due to increasingly choosy women unwilling to settle for men with inferior education and living standards.
Ouyang said she was pleased to see younger women coming on board, often prompted by their parents.
At a recent weekend dating salon at her office, participants were given time to describe themselves by choosing from four different profiles. Later they went into smaller groups to interact with people of differing profiles.
Li Xing, a 30-year-old production manager at a steel firm, said he joined because it was hard to meet women in his male-dominated industry.
“This place is strict on the information you give. This feels more real, there is a higher level of trust, and also a wider scope of people,” he said.
“This is better than people recommended to my parents, because that’s restricted to only a small group of people, giving me less of a choice.”
Editing by Elaine Lies and Jacqueline Wong