Dating websites still find a spot in the heart

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Li Chenchen and her boyfriend got married recently after dating for two years. Unlike most Chinese newlyweds, they were neither childhood sweethearts nor college classmates.

The 28-year-old Shanghai marketing specialist, concerned about her romantic prospects, registered with an online dating website where she listed the attributes she was seeking in an ideal mate. Bingo! After a few months of sorting through prospective partners, she found her Mr Right.

"A colleague of mine recommended this website to me, and I subscribed," Li said. "I didn't pay for what it called 'premium match-making' that cost up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,151) and provided names of possible men to me. I wanted to choose myself."

There are an estimated 180 million single people of marriageable age in China, according to a recent survey. Families and neighborhood matchmakers still play a role, but many modern young people don't want decisions made for them in choosing a spouse.

Moreover, about 24 percent of parents of marriageable age children are also trying to help them find suitable mates, according to the 2010 China Marital Status Report, which estimates its active market at about 2.2 million.

The report was released in December by the China Association of Marriage and Family, the Committee of Matchmaking Service Industries and matchmaking website Some 32,676 people between the ages of 20 and 26 were interviewed across the Chinese mainland.

Many young Chinese in search of love connect through the booming social network websites, but online entrepreneurs seek a more specific market opportunity aimed at those feeling anxious about their single status.

Shenzhen-based was among the earliest websites offering a platform for young men and women to find partners.

Zhenai, which in Chinese means "cherished love," was co-founded by former Wall Street investment banker Li Song and Roger Chen, former manager at Dell China.

The website began in 2005 and charges about 1,000 yuan for a six-month membership that gives users access to a database of the lovelorn. That fee has since risen to 3,000 yuan.

Member also may access the offline services of 1,200 professional matchmakers, called hong niang, who offer advice how to develop personal relationships.

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