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Chinese Dating Show Puts Veto Power in Parents’ Hands
Published on: 2017-02-17
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060You are a young Chinese man whose father tells you the most important skill his future daughter-in-law must have is caring for her home and family. Your mother rejects a 40-year-old woman as your potential mate because she may be too old to bear children.

This is not prerevolutionary China, but a new TV dating show.

Since "Chinese Dating" made its debut in late December, it has drawn viewers and generated lively discussions on China's social networks. A Weibo page for "Chinese Dating" has been visited 177 million times, and the first three episodes had more than 200 million views online.

Dating shows are not new in China. The top-rated "If You Are the One" turned several contestants into celebrities through their provocative statements, such as "I'd rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle." What's different about "Chinese Dating" is that it gives parents power over their children's choices, a power many viewers say reflects Chinese society today.

Zhang Yashu, a 25-year-old woman from Shenyang, the capital of the northeastern province of Liaoning, who appeared on the show in January, said none of her previous boyfriends had satisfied her mother.

"My mom means well. She wants me to find a good husband - by her standards," Ms. Zhang said in an interview. "I don't feel a rush to get married, but my parents are worried I won't be able to find a good husband, especially as their friends' children are all settling down."

Ms. Zhang's parents had introduced her to several men, but none of the meetings sparked romance. Fortunately, she found someone she liked on the show and, her parents liked him, too.

The show's hostess is one of China's most popular entertainment personalities: Jin Xing, a transgender woman. If that challenges Confucian traditions, the show's format hews more closely to them. The basic format lines up several young men or women against five sets of parents. The parents' children are in another room, where they can watch the proceedings through a monitor and communicate with their parents by phone. Only candidates approved by the parents are allowed to meet their children.

For male candidates, parents' biggest concern appears to be their finances. For women, it helps to be young, pretty and innocent seeming. In one episode, when a potential groom asked the parents how many relationships their daughters had had, all the parents said their daughters either had never dated or had never brought a man home.

Lu Pin, a feminist and cultural critic, said patriarchal values were never entirely eliminated from Chinese culture, and there were signs that they were making a comeback.

"Many Chinese families have entered the middle class now, and they want to solidify their status by marrying people from a similar background," Ms. Lu said. "It's a decision that affects the whole family."

Without parents' help, she said, many young Chinese cannot afford to marry, and even afterward they still need help from their parents on issues like child care.

Some commenters on Weibo agreed. "China is a country full of grown-up babies," one user wrote.

But others say the show is only acknowledging the practicalities of finding a mate.

"It's better than breaking up after you've dated a while and found you don't get along well with each other's parents," wrote another.

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