A CRACKDOWN on matchmaking activities at People’s Park in downtown Shanghai has disrupted what was a lucrative business for blind-date fraudsters and created a headache for parents who view the site as their last-ditch hope to find partners for unmarried children.
Huangpu District authorities began evicting matchmakers from the park last month following public complaints and media reports about unlicensed matchmakers swindling desperate parents.
The crackdown, which involved police, greenery and market watchdog, has busted 25 illegal agencies and confiscated nearly 700 advertisement boards of matchmaking services so far. But there were still few who managed to hoodwink the authorities and continue to ply their trade yesterday.
Many parents bemoan the loss of a site that is widely considered the best place for matchmaking — parents like Lin Shifa, 57, who sat in the park’s “blind date corner” for about four hours last Saturday.
On a pink umbrella to shield him from the sun, he had attached a piece of paper listing all the attributes of his 31-year-old, unmarried daughter.
“The park should be a place for parents only, not matchmaking agencies,” he said.
His daughter works in information technology in Zhangjiang. His efforts to fine her a partner have been frustrating. “Only about 30 percent of the people who come to the park are men, and among them, 80 percent are no good,” he said. “The rest are too picky. They seem like men seeking imperial concubines.”
Matchmaking is a traditional way for single Chinese men and women in their 20s and 30s to meet. It has become especially popular amid the rising number of so-called “leftover” people — well-educated, highly paid young professionals who find it increasingly hard to find a mate.
Despite the recent crackdown in People’s Park, illegal matchmaking agencies are still in evidence, many of them masquerading as parents. They go about the park distributing leaflets about singles and about their services.
“I hate matchmaking agencies and don’t trust any of them,” said a 70-year-old woman surnamed Zhou. She said she was swindled out of 1,800 yuan (US$290) by a matchmaking agency in the park when she sought a partner for her 37-year-old daughter. Every weekend for the past five years, she comes to the park from 7am to 5pm.
Zhou said she and other parents have complained that the illegal agencies are still operating in the park, but she suspects they give cigarettes and liquor to park officials, who then turn a blind eye. “I just hope the park can be returned to its original, pure environment,” she said.
Others said they don’t mind the agencies in the park as long as they are legal and don’t charge exorbitant fees.
A mother surnamed Li, who is in her 60s, is searching for a wife for her 32-year-old son, who works in an advertising company. “Legal agencies provide another channel for us, which means more opportunities,” she said. “There is such a gender imbalance nowadays that I fear these weekend events will just fade away.”
Zhang Chunxiang said matchmaking activities should be allowed only under regulation.
“There are a large number of “leftover” people who don’t have channels to meet one another and have small social circles,” he said. “That’s not good for a healthy society. Simply blocking matchmaking services here is not good, but the activity needs to be monitored.”
Nonprofit matchmakers who don’t charge for their services have fallen victim to the crackdown. Auntie Lin is one of the founders of the blind date corner in the park. She has been there every weekend since 2005. She has about 10 volunteers, all retirees, who help her.
Lin and her group register information on singles and make it available to those looking for partners. “I don’t like playing mahjong or square dancing like other retirees,” Lin said. “Matchmaking is my only pastime.
“The crackdown is a torture for me,” she said. “I’m not sure what to do.”
She said Luxun and Fuxing parks do not have the convenience and high profile of People’s Park. “The authorities should manage the site, not just drive us all out,” she said. “There is a huge public demand for matchmaking services and this is the best venue.”
Indeed, the pursuit of love — or at least partnership — has been bringing people to the park every weekend for 10 years. As many as 2,000 people, mostly parents, attend at any given time. Small wonder that illegal operators saw their chance.
It is easy for scam agencies to prey on the anxiety of parents who want to see their sons and daughters married. Some charge high fees, with promises of up to 30 introductions.
Cai Minghong, an official with the Huangpu District's park greenery authority, said the current crackdown will continue, and legal agencies and nonprofit groups are being encouraged to move to other places.
He admitted it’s hard on any given weekend to separate who’s who in the park. Illegal operators blend in with parents and legitimate matchmakers and are hard to weed out.
Earlier, the matchmaking association created a regular event to rival the famous weekend meetings held at People’s Park, but that attempt to circumvent illegal matchmakers failed.