Aging singles look for love in China

SHANGHAI - Wearing her favourite black dress, 53-year-old Liu Fenqin sat nervously in a corner at an official match-making event in Shanghai, hoping to find a husband after her first marriage ended in divorce more than 10 years earlier.

With China's divorce rate rising, Liu was one of thousands of middle-aged and senior lonely hearts who took part in the annual event sponsored by the Shanghai government after the upper age limit was raised from 45 to 60 this year.

"I'm looking for someone not too ugly," Liu said as she glanced around at the participants, many of whom were also too shy to mix and mingle.

She wanted to find a second husband when she was younger but her daughter did not want her to, she said, so she put her love life on hold.

The event, which drew 30,000 people last year, attracted an estimated 40,000 this year after organizers lifted the age limit to satisfy demand from the growing number of divorcees, said Xu Tianli, vice chairman of the Shanghai Matchmaking Agency Management Association.

With some people there in their 60s and even 70s, the age limit was not absolute.

"If anyone has earnest love and marriage needs then we will do our best to help them out," Xu said.

Divorce rates in China have climbed for seven years in a row. In 2012, the year-on-year rise in divorces outpaced that of marriages for the first time, according to official data.

The Chinese city with the highest divorce rate is Beijing, at 39 per cent, according to local media. About half of US marriages end in divorce, while the figure for Britain is 42 per cent.

The issue has not escaped the notice of China's government, which is concerned that broken homes will erode social stability.

"Previously, the government didn't collect statistics but sensitivity to this issue is increasing," said Sun Qiliang, who heads China's Marriage and Family Counseling website.

"It's likely that children from divorced families will become social outcasts and vagrants. So it does have a negative impact on society."

To mend ailing marriages and encourage senior singles to date, China has introduced a range of measures.

In March the "Family Harmony" project was launched to train a force of "marriage doctors and nurses" to help stabilize rocky relationships.

The match-making event in Shanghai, held in a vast furniture warehouse, was divided into different sections, with three set aside for senior participants.

Zheng Zhixin, 68, said he and his wife got divorced while they were living in Japan when he worked there as an engineer.

"She wanted to stay but I wanted to come back home. Our direction was not the same," he said.

Zheng said he still believes in love but realises that socializing with women is not one of his strengths.

For Liu, the event offered a chance to find companionship, even though she did not find anyone who took her fancy.

"My daughter is married. I am lonely," she said. "I want someone to live with in case I get ill. I don't need love because I am already old."