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But the “goods” being hawked by the seasoned ladies behind the stalls are not scarves or souvenirs, but rather singles.
Welcome to the People’s Park “marriage market,” where thousands of adults — mostly aging parents — come daily to scan the sea of personal ads, meet with matchmakers and chat up other parents eager to find a partner for their overworked, unwed children.
(A generation ago, a washing machine and refrigerator would have sufficed.) All these personal facts can also be found on the profiles hanging in the People’s Park marriage market.
That is not to say that online dating has changed the values and criteria of Chinese singles completely.
On the contrary, the primary players in this space — Jiayuan, Zhenai and Baihe — advertise themselves explicitly as marriage websites focused on helping singles find their future life partner.
This is the world of Chinese online dating, a nascent industry that has taken off and is expected to break two billion RMB (US8 million) in total annual revenue by 2014, according to a recent report by Analysys International.
What is interesting about Chinese online dating is not only its rapid growth in a conservative society that frowns upon courting more than one person at a time, but also its potential to change the social norms that are part of dating both online and offline.
Wandering into the main gate of People’s Park, a large public gathering space in the heart of Shanghai, one might think he or she has stumbled upon a bustling flea market.
Rows of colorful stalls line the walkways, which are crowded with old couples elbowing each other to examine the thousands of offerings.
According to Shang-Hsiu Koo, CFO of Jiayuan, the largest Chinese online dating website, what users value most in a potential match are education level, age, height and residency (in China, having a residency permit, in a top-tier city is highly desirable because only those with permits have access to public services and certain employment opportunities in that city).
In addition, for men today to be taken seriously, they must own a car and hold a deed to an apartment.