Postcard from Beijing... no 5

Love at first site?

Beijingers have long logged on to Taobao – China’s answer to eBay – to buy and sell their wares. But recently Raymond Liu, the founder and CEO of Chinese cosmetics site Jilituan.com, went one step further: not content with simply trying to sell his company’s skin whitening cream on Taobao, he has advertised himself as “a product to save beautiful single girls from a lonely and miserable Christmas.”

Mr Liu’s ‘stunt’ has sent shock waves around the Taoabo community, but I can’t help but wonder why…  For while you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would be easy to meet a ‘mate’ in a country with a population of 1.3 billion, the reality is otherwise.

The Supremes might have sung in the sixties of how “you can’t hurry love” – a sentiment echoed in 1982 by Phil Collins who told us that you “just have to wait, love don’t come easy” but in Beijing 2010, where the lifestyle is an increasingly capitalist one, time is a luxury.

There might a significant number of single people out there, but it's difficult to bump into them: Beijingers spend an alarming amount of time in the office working long hours in a bid to make partner or earn that promotion, all of which leaves little time for socialising. Added to which, today’s generation live away from home and so are less likely to find a partner through ‘traditional’ means like relatives or neighbours. And for men, given China’s gender imbalance – 24 million Chinese men will find themselves lacking wives by 2020 according to a recent study by the Chinese Academy of Social Service – it’s even worse.

Little wonder then that Mr Liu is seeking out new avenues for romance and, in a society that is increasingly living life on the internet, posting a personal ad on Taobao isn’t so shocking: rather it smacks of good sense. Beijingers shop for everything – from food to fashion – online,so it’s inevitable that we also use the internet to help us run our love lives as well.

In my mind, Mr Liu’s move shows initiative not desperation. Like most of us, Mr Liu would like to meet someone, but that someone remains as elusive as a vacant taxi during Beijing’s rush hour. We don’t marry our high school sweethearts (too traditional) while meeting someone on opposite escalators in Sanlitun Village is the stuff of movies. Subsequently perhaps posting an ad on the internet – a world of infinite possibility where you can theoretically meet anyone –is the answer. It might be unorthodox, but it could also be the great solution to 21st century loneliness.

Not everyone agrees of course and make no mistake: it’s essential to have your wits about you when looking for love online – you can’t always trust the claims people make about their appearance, or personality. However what is certain is this: like it or loathe it, the internet has becoe part of modern life and, as Mr Liu’s online ad demonstrates, traditional dating in Beijing is under assault.