Matchmaking is indeed a huge enterprise in China, a country with over 400 million singles based on 2005 data. And enterprises such as Century Love are quick to capitalize on the opportunity to facilitate first-century marital motivations using 21st-century technology.
Last March, over 4,000 singles gathered together in Beijing for the largest commercial matchmaking event in Chinese history.
Organized by Century Love [http://www.jiayuan.
com/], China’s leading online matchmaking company, the “love fair” marked the debut of online matchmaking into mainstream business, the beginning of the end of an old industry of matchmakers, and the rise of the new technology-enabled industry of their successors.
Century Love, founded by Fudan University student Gong Hai Yan in 2003, now has over 12 million registered users and boasts over two million successful matches ending up in marriage.
Advent of the Matchmaker
Among traditional Chinese families, it is the practice of children to marry within their own social class. Although no longer as vigorously enforced among present-day Chinese—especially those living in the more prosperous cities and those based abroad— this age-old rule still exerts some influence over marital decisions.
Emerging out of feudal China, where interactions were rare among youth who were neither next-door neighbors nor relations, this practice produced the need for a well connected intermediary who could arrange marriages among families of the same social class. Out of this need, the profession of matchmaker emerged.
Matchmakers then were usually elderly females. They not only introduced families to each other but also did background checks, screened potential matches according to the preferences of each party, and applied their own marital experiences to evaluate the likelihood of a successful marriage. In return, they were paid money or its worth in property.
Contrary to common perception, matchmaking has always been all about business for the Chinese. As families then married not for love but for economic gain, it’s no surprise that matchmaking itself became a commercial transaction.
“Job Fair” for Lovers
In contrast to most of its Western counterparts, the Century Love matchmaking event attracted both singles and parents alike; the latter coming to search for partners, not for themselves, but for their children. What’s more, while most dating events organized around the world endeavor to provide an intimate environment where participants can share tidbits about themselves through informal conversation, Century Love’s fair was structured much like a college job fair, featuring participants who sign up as booth-manning “employers” and others who sign up as roving “employees.”
Despite China’s rapid industrialization, it looks as if getting married may still be very much an economically motivated choice for today’s Chinese youth—and their highly involved families—as it was many decades ago.
From Profession to Industry
At its March 2008 fair, Century Love charged 100 yuan (US$14.04) per participant, offering a network numbering thousands. On the other hand, while a traditional matchmaker may seem the cheaper alternative (given these matchmakers usually don’t receive payment until marriage is successfully consummated), once a match is successfully made, the costs of traditional matchmaking can be very high. At times, upfront payment may be paltry yet feelings of debt of honor usually compel the couple and their families to continue giving gifts and tokens of appreciation to the matchmaker over a prolonged period of time.
Furthermore, a traditional matchmaker’s extended network would not likely exceed a hundred individuals of marrying age versus, for example, Century Love’s 12 million registered users with detailed personal, professional, and socio-economic information provided. (Salary expectedly makes a strong selling point for matchmaking participants).
While some parents may still value the involvement of a respected traditional matchmaker, most of the young will undoubtedly prefer the do-it-yourself facilities provided by online matchmakers. After all, while love may still not be the one primary driving force behind marital choices, even among younger generation Chinese, having the opportunity to choose one’s spouse no matter what the underlying motivations were will undoubtedly be better than letting an old woman make this lifelong choice on one’s behalf.
print ed: 04/08