He chats with ease to guests at wedding ceremonies, providing witty remarks to help people warm to him, and is always eager to lend a hand with household chores in front of his in-laws.
But he has had practice: Now is the time when single people aged in their late 20s or older can expect a grilling from parents and relatives if they return home alone. Most Chinese parents today still expect their children to get married before they reach their 30s, but those same children are becoming increasingly careful about choosing their significant other. Chen started out renting his services as a boyfriend in Spotting the huge opportunities — and profits — through fake marriages, he first got married in after a young Shandong woman approached him. Since then he has been married — and divorced — twice more and has kept his divorce certificates like souvenirs.
Some of them were homosexuals who wanted to use a fake marriage to appease their family. That pressure is especially acute during Lunar New Year when everyone, including millions of migrant workers, return home to their families.
Renting a groom or bride for wedding ceremonies is an offshoot of the lucrative business or hiring boyfriends and girlfriends, which also peaks around the annual new year holiday festival. The popular Chinese social media messaging tool, WeChat, is host to many public accounts that offer girlfriends and boyfriends for rent.
Qiu Haibo, who lives in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, in the southeast of the country, is the chief executive of a start-up company that is developing an app for offering rental services. Qiu predicts a rosy future for his business. Requests for girlfriends far exceeds those for men and Qiu said his business has seen demand peaking as the Lunar New Year approaches. The price for renting a girlfriend of boyfriend varies, but the cost of renting someone you can bring home to your parents during Lunar New Year generally costs more than 1, yuan a day.
Charges for a fake marriage are even more expensive. In China today, single people, particularly women in their late 20s. Well-educated women find it hard to date eligible bachelors when most Chinese men still prefer women that are less educated or capable than they are.
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With no suitable candidate for marriage in sight, young Chinese singletons that feel pressured and frequently nagged by their families have increasingly resorted to fake marriage to ease the tension between them and their parents. However, experts say that faking a marriage or renting partners is unlikely to solve the problem of the ever-growing chasm that exists between mainland parents and their children.
The difference in the perceptions of children and their parents with regard to marriage highlighted the lack of communication between the two generations, Lu said. Apart from the possibility of upsetting parents, safety is also a big concern for most of the women who rent themselves out as girlfriends and brides at this time of year.
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While most would stay away from any sexual relationship as part of the business deal, there have been cases where the fake couple have ended up sleeping together. Chen, who now runs a website that specialises in the partner rental business, said requests for partners had rocketed in the days before the start of Lunar New Year. He said he regarded himself simply an actor in real life. Although he admitted that occasionally he had been overwhelmed with pity for his duped in-laws, he said he was doing vastly more good than evil through his actions.
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