|A young woman at the dating agency [Cnwomen.cn]|
China's dating and matchmaking culture has changed in numerous ways over the past 40 years due to reform and opening-up, according to a recent profile on the evolution of various types of services from traditional agencies to online apps.
A dating agency that was the first of its kind established in the New China has borne close witness to the evolution of marriage, family and courtship rituals in the country over the past decades.
The government-sponsored agency in Guangdong province was first set up as the Youth Marriage Institution in 1982 by Guangzhou Municipal Committee and the local government of the city.
It continued as an officially-funded, permanent service organization for unmarried youths until 2014 when the agency was adjusted to merge into the subordinate business unit, the Youth Marriage Service Research Center, due to institutional reform.
The center helped young people facilitate connections through various means, such as providing introduction cards, matchmaking, running citizenship activities and organizing special outings.
By June 1984, over 1,400 pairs of lovers had been connected, with a success rate of 14.4 percent, ranking first among match-making agencies across the country.
Most blind dates were held among work units and organizations, where young people could enjoy tea, dancing and blind dates after buying a ticket worth 50 cents.
Over the past 30 years, the agency has served over 400,000 young people and has hosted over a dozen collective weddings.
Hu Zhanhong, the head of the agency, has been engaged in the industry for over 10 years after graduating from university. He experienced the glory days of the agency through to its diminishment in the face of today's fierce competition.
He told reporters that around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the industry flourished, and that was the silver age of the traditional dating agencies. With the rise of various Internet dating sites and mobile apps, young people increasingly favor new and convenient ways of making friends.
Traditional dating agencies were severely challenged, he says.
Due to institutional reforms, the agency was adjusted to merge into its subordinate business unit, the Youth Marriage Service Research Center in 2014.
In addition to providing unmarried youths with a platform for dating, the center also actively organizes a series of public welfare activities related to consultation, training, dating and weddings.
In recent years, with the support from the Guangzhou municipal committee of the Communist Youth League, the institute has created a one-stop marriage and "finding love" service platform for local young people by providing safe, authentic and reliable public-spirited online dating service. As of now, the number of real-name registered members has reached 10,000.
The center also has a marriage service program for local young people by focusing on youth social contacts, emotional counseling, and collective wedding activities. They also invite expert tutors to conduct regular lectures and counseling, with an aim to help single youngsters solve their emotional problems in marriage and love relationship.
Different Views on Mate Selection
Song Lianxiang, 68, has worked in the Jixiangyaun Marriage Counseling Co. for 18 years. It was formerly known as the military marriage dating agency under the jurisdiction of the Dalian Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau, in northeast China's Liaoning province.
Song found out that withs the rapid development of the market economy, people's demands for an ideal marriage and partner have become higher and higher, and the realization of self-value has increasingly been given consideration in partner selection.
Song said people used to focus on personalities and virtues of each other, since the state would provide housing.
Whilst housing prices continue to soar in today's society, especially in first- and second-tier cities, youngsters pay more and more attention to economic status when they are dating.
"The pressure of survival has increased. Unlike the simple marriages in the past, there are more and more young people who want to change their personal destinies through marriage," Song added.
With people from the generation born in the 80s entering the marriage and dating market, Song has spent more time and energy on emotional counseling.
She has noticed that as women's education level and employment rate has increased, they have become more independent and no longer rely solely on men in their family life. But they have higher requirements for men's thoughtfulness and tenderness.
Meanwhile, men have placed more emphasis on women's appearance and body shape.
In terms of people from the generation born in the 90s, the high housing prices and economic pressures have significantly lowered their expectations for love and marriage compared to previous generations. Love is no longer the only focus of their lives, nor is marriage a necessity.
Media Courtship: Bolder Self-expression
Due to the conservativeness and limitation nature of traditional marriage concepts, as well as other historical reasons, the marriage personal ad was slow to develop.
After the country entered the new era of implementing reform and opening up, the publication of marriage notices in various newspapers and magazines became popular among the public.
In the mid-80s, Marriage and Family magazine issued 40-50 marriage notices per period. A special issue of the Chinese Women magazine published 101 such notices in just one issue, their statements relatively conservative and mostly containing personal information including gender, age, occupation, height, working and living areas, etc.
After the 90s, marriage notices included self-introduction of character and hobbies, and people gave more attention to personal expression.
With the development of the times, people have gradually raised their criteria from the material level to that of the spiritual, and continuously lifted their quality requirements.
In 2000, with the emerging of various media, the development of marriage notices on the newspapers and magazines began to be restricted due to strict publishing requirements. Despite guaranteeing authenticity, procedures are much more cumbersome compared with online.
The popularity of color TVs at home spawned TV dating shows. This gave the audience a truly authentic feeling, and the concept of marriage of the general public has since become bolder and more practical.
They no longer believed that the open marriage-seeking is shameful, but rather an easier way to find a suitable partner.
Today's dating programs are more like platforms for people to express their own concepts and personal advantages. For the contemporary people who are paying more and more attention to the quality of marriage, it is easier to find their own like-minded partners by fully demonstrating themselves and expressing their emotional needs.
Rise of Internet Matchmaking Agencies
Wu Linguang, the general manager of dating website Baihe.com, used to serve as CEO of Jiayuan.com, which is the first dating website launched by Gong Haiyan.
According to Wu, since the beginning of the 21st century, urbanization has allowed a large number of people to flood into big cities, which has broken the original social circles, and greatly restricted dating circles.
The Internet, however, can solve the problem of "meeting people", says Wu.
Lu Yanxia, chief emotional consultant of Baihe.com, and national senior marriage planner, said, "The emergence of the Internet has reduced the communication costs, whilst more convenient social software has also been adding to people's self-isolation. With the increased work pressure and anxiety, people are more likely to run into obstacles in their relationships."
Since early 2010s, the score of service of marriage and dating websites has been constantly expanded to include emotional counseling services.
Wu said, "Internet dating has evolved from a tool for getting to know people to a comprehensive service institution, and the significance of its existence has been redefined."
(Source: Cnwomen.com.cn/ Translated and edited by Women of China)
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