“FIGHT for Love,” the latest TV dating show, is stirring controversy about the value of love and relationships. The 10-episode, documentary-style reality show, the first of its kind in China’s mainland, challenges the traditional Chinese dating shows by setting up a “love training camp.”Some regard it a how-to for the large number of “leftover women” (shengnu) in big cities, while others consider it just a show seeking high viewership that veers away from the essence of love.
The series, which was aired on Shanghai’s News Channel last month, is now presented on iQIYI.com. Based on an original Hong Kong show called “Bride Wannabes” that aired in 2012, it boasts a documentary style of cinematography. But many viewers and netizens are questioning whether people really can be trained for love, relationships and marriage.
From about 1,000 candidates, six single women of different ages, educational backgrounds, professions and personalities were selected, including a strong, independent woman known as nu hanzi or “manly woman,” a fat shy girl, an elite white-collar woman, an otaku, a belly dance coach who has been divorced twice, and an ordinary-looking woman who has had more than 100 blind dates.
They represent diverse groups of “leftover women” (women over 28 and still single) who are on the increase in China’s major cities. The “love training camp” features a panel of experts, including a psychologist, a beauty counselor and a fitness coach. They offer guidance in dressing, manners and communication skills in relationships. In the camp, the women undergo training to improve their physique, figure and feminine charm.
They are taught to dress fashionably, appear elegant and feminine to male bachelors and to speak out courageously in front of a camera.
Wen Jie, an account manager in her 30s, failed in 100 or so blind dates. She went to Zhang Yiyun, a psychologist on the show, to ask about how to respond to a man’s proposal to go to his house, which could imply an invitation for sex. Zhang advised her not to make quick assumptions and said she needs timely and effective communication as well as a sense of humor.
Another candidate, Lu Lu, a marketing manager of a property enterprise, is baigujing, which literally means “white-collar, backbone, elite.”
She used to be very aggressive and ambitious on first dates, asking men about their economic and education background and talking about work. But psychologists point out that men might think she has no interest in them.
“Many cases have shown that travel is the best topic for a blind date because it is casual and interesting,” Zhang said on the show. “The mix of fun and exploration on a trip conforms with that of a relationship, which always has an uncertainty.”
Shirley Cheung, president of Sau San Tong Healthy Trim Institution and one of the camp’s panel members, said the six women had transformed themselves during the show’s production.
“The women used to look so depressed in life but now they have turned out a brand-new look,” Cheung said. “They are more confident, independent and charming. They are making good preparations to find Mr Right.”
During the airing of the series, there were heated discussions on Internet communities such as liba.com and kdslife.com, which attract many white-collar workers.
Netizen Angelcandice said blind dates are like sales pitches that requires skills and packaging.
Vivian Song, a single human resources worker in her 30s, tells Shanghai Daily that she thinks the series records people’s true feelings about love. In her opinion, it is more sincere than other TV dating shows.
“I’m impressed by the novelty of the love camp, which also presents extreme sports exercises and masquerade parties,” Song says. “The show encourages me to become better in life.”
However, some people think it is merely after high viewership ratings and that to attain them it contains overly dramatic scripts and exaggerated conflicts and acting.
“I don’t think one can find the right person in a short-term training,” says Jacky Zhang, an administration director and TV fan. “Too many love and dating tips may also mislead the ‘leftover women’ to act in sophisticated and even disguised way just to cater to the tastes of men.
“All of them are trained as soft, tender and fair ladies. It is not true to themselves,” he adds.
Some people say the real problem is that men are not good enough these days to match the women in China’s major cities. Unlike in previous times, women’s earnings today are on par with men’s and they enjoy equal social status and education.
Little Wolf, commenting on liba.com, said dating tips cannot fundamentally resolve the problem of “leftover women.” He said they need to change the traditional concept that a woman must choose a man who has a superior salary and wealth to her own.
“It will also open new relationships where a man and a woman’s roles and responsibilities in the family can partly interchange and achieve a balance,” he said.
Compared with star-making talent shows, the matchmaking programs have lower production costs and appeal to large audiences. “If You’re the One” and “Date on Saturday” are among the most famous and popular in China.
As early as 2010, such shows aroused a wide controversy on values when Ma Nuo, a Beijing model, said on “If You’re the One” on Jiangsu Satellite TV that “I’d much rather weep in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle.”
Professor Gu Xiaoming, a sociologist from Shanghai Fudan University, says that relationship and marriage counseling is a necessary and creative part of matchmaking shows in China, but such shows should be produced with a lot more honesty.
“Many domestic dating shows are just exploiting the economic values of ‘leftover women’ rather than sincerely extending care for them,” Gu says. “To grab the public attention, they depict these women as an odd group but in fact many of them are charming, independent and they live their lives with dreams and aspirations.”
Such matchmaking genre is also popular overseas, with some more creative and entertaining elements. In South Korea, the “GoldMiss” reality show invites six single women to compete in talent, cooking and manners. Based on audience voting, the best woman wins a date with a pop star.
In Australia, one dating show puts city girls who are looking for a simpler life in the country on blind dates with farmers and ranchers. They are required to do many kinds of farm work together.