Among the millions of young couples who headed home for the Lunar New Year holiday earlier this week, some had a secret -- they were traveling not for love but money.
Young people from smaller towns and villages still face withering parental pressure to marry in their early 20s, and some pay good money to hire the right type to bring home and please anxious parents, at least for a few days.
This "rent-a-date" trade springs up on China's Internet bulletin boards around the week-long holiday, fueled by harried professionals looking for a pretend partner to smile and say the right things.
"Girlfriend wanted, will pay per day," wrote one man surnamed Wang, on the Baidu Website (tieba.baidu.com).
"Requirements: pretty, good body, around 1.6 meters, under 23 years old. Please contact me if you are interested."
The 25-year-old, grew up in a rural part of central China's Henan Province and works in Chengde, a city north of Beijing.
Wang is still under the average age for marrying in big cities, about 29 for men and 27 for women. But coming from the rural backwoods, where the average marriage ages are 23 and 22 respectively, he faces pressure to pair up.
"I've just graduated from college and have no money. It's unrealistic for me to date a girl," he said.
"But if I went home without a girlfriend, my parents will be worried."
Wang paid 80 yuan a day (US$12) to rent a partner, plus travel and accommodation.
Another single man who advertised on another Website (bj.58.com) said he paid 1,000 yuan to take a stranger to his home in Liaoning Province.
"I couldn't bear the pressure from parents," said 37-year-old Zhao. "I don't think it's deceiving or immoral," he said. "It comes from goodwill."
His rented partner did her job well, Zhao said. "My parents were quite satisfied with her. So I paid an extra 500 yuan as a bonus."
There was no lack of women looking for a temporary escape from prodding parents.
"Because my parents are getting quite pushy, this year I want to find a high-quality male partner to accompany me to my hometown in Shandong for the festival," said one aspiring Internet dater. "If you're not sincere, don't disturb my life, thank you."
(Shanghai Daily February 1, 2009)