Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 5 News List

Beijing grandpa uniting lonely hearts for decades

CHINESE CUPID:Zhu Fang, who has been arranging dates for 50 years, said that while marriage is in decline in China, he believes people are still looking for love and happiness

AFP, BEIJING

Matchmaker Zhu Fang, front center left, talks to parents and grandparents of single people at his house in Beijing, China, on Dec. 17 last year.

Photo: AFP

Zhu Fang’s living room walls are plastered with hundreds of headshots of hopeful singles, some of them faded, and featuring bouffant hairstyles and outdated outfits.

For almost 50 years he has been one of Beijing’s most popular matchmakers, and at 75, he remains in as much demand as ever.

In his time uniting lonely hearts, China has undergone dramatic social change. Marriage, which has traditionally been key in the patriarchal society, is in decline and the nation’s birthrate fell to its lowest level in 70 years in 2018.

However, Zhu said that people are still looking for love, and his phone rings often with matchmaking requests.

“It’s meaningful, and that’s why I’ve continued,” he said, but conceded that it is not a lucrative business and that he relies on the financial support of his children.

Zhu said he was inspired by Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) political slogan: “Serve the People”.

“When I help others to find happiness, I also get some happiness myself,” Zhu said.

He charges a one-off 200 yuan (US$29) membership fee and his clients are mainly elderly people hoping to find spouses for their adult children.

On a cold December morning, his from-home “office” is full of middle-aged parents huddling around binders of printed dating profiles, searching for a suitable son or daughter-in-law.

Retiree Huang Guiyun said she was worried about her widowed daughter.

“We have our own house in Beijing, and she has money,” Huang said. “Everything is going smoothly — except for the loneliness.”

Zhu’s matchmaking career has spanned decades of breakneck economic growth and social change in China.

When he first started out, China had not yet opened its economy to the rest of the world, and most of his clients were male factory workers.

A few colleagues at his sandblasting factory in Beijing had approached Zhu to ask if he could introduce them to potential girlfriends. After a few successful matches, Zhu was hooked.

“I thought it was fun, so I kept going, and now 50 years have passed,” he said, adding that he used to arrange dates “in parks, or on the roads or at stations.”

Zhu himself was introduced to his wife by a neighbor, and they married in 1969.

“In the past people fell in love at first sight,” he said.

“I didn’t think that deeply about it. I thought that as long as I could find someone to pass the days with, it would be fine,” he said.

As China has changed, Zhu has also noticed a big change in his clientele.

He said that in recent years his clients have become more status-conscious and are often embarrassed about using a matchmaker.

“Some [clients] work in the industrial and commerce bureau or tax bureau, and fear that others will say, with such a good job why do you need a matchmaker to help you find a boyfriend or girlfriend?” he said.

In his time as matchmaker, Zhu has brought more than 1,700 couples together.

However, he said that he cannot find a partner for everyone, and “some photos have been up for a long time.”

There are far more women on Zhu’s books now, but he said they have high standards.

“They have three ‘highs’: they’re highly educated, have high salaries, and they are tall,” Zhu said, adding that they would not settle for anyone they deem unworthy.

“Single women say: ‘I’d rather have no boyfriend than have someone who’s not good enough,’” he said.

“But no one is perfect,” he said. “If you don’t have the right attitude, you’ll never find someone.”

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