BEIJING - A Chinese female blogger who posed as a man's Chinese New Year girlfriend says her experience illustrates the generational tensions over finding a marriage partner in China.
Ms Zhao Yuqing, a recent law graduate, said she was intrigued by the websites and mobile apps aimed at single people looking to hire instant partners whom they can present to relatives during the new year holidays.
During the holidays, single men and women are often subjected to lectures from family members keen on reinforcing the importance of marriage and securing the family bloodline.
Some singles resort to hiring fake girlfriends and boyfriends through date-for-hire apps and websites.
Educated and attractive twenty-somethings can command fees of 3,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan (S$608 to S$2,026) a day over the busy festive period, according to mobile apps and websites seen by Reuters.
Ms Zhao said in her online advertisement that she wanted the experience of being a holiday companion and would charge only for the transport to the person's home town.
Out of a pool of 700 respondents, Ms Zhao chose Mr Wang Quanming, a website operator in his early thirties from the rural south.
"He is being pressured to find a wife and his need to rent a girlfriend is real," Ms Zhao told a photojournalist who approached her and Mr Wang after seeing the online ad and learning about their agreement.
The photojournalist accompanied the couple for the duration of the trip.
Before setting off last January for Mr Wang's family home in the hills of Fujian, they hammered out details of the false long-distance relationship to tell his parents, and set ground rules for the home visit.
There was to be no kissing, sleeping together or drinking alcohol, but she was ready to help with household chores, Ms Zhao and Mr Wang agreed in a handwritten contract seen by Reuters.
When the couple arrived, Mr Wang's mother, Madam Nong Xiurong, tried to make Ms Zhao feel at home and respected her son's request to leave the two alone and not ask questions about their relationship, according to Ms Zhao, Mr Wang and his mother.
After the visit, Ms Zhao returned to Beijing and wrote a blog post on the social media app WeChat, saying she had a "wonderful experience" at Mr Wang's home.
'I WASN'T ANGRY'
Mr Wang said he decided to end the deception because he feared it could make the situation worse with his mother. He sent Ms Zhao's blog to her.
In a telephone interview, Madam Nong told Reuters she was not upset by what happened and said she was moved by Ms Zhao's blog.
"At the start, I didn't know they were cheating me," she said. "I'm over 50. I don't understand what these young people get up to, but I wasn't angry."
Nevertheless, Madam Nong said she still worries about her son finding a partner. "My mother's core demand for me to marry early still exists," Mr Wang added.
For Ms Zhao, the experience highlighted how hard it is to resolve the generational tensions over marriage in China, where traditional notions remain strong in rural areas.
"The special situation in the village magnifies everything," she told Reuters.
"They face a greater urgency to marry, so that makes it much harder to find a truly suitable other half."