Clean-cut, bespectacled and financially secure Matthew Fan, 27, started to “rent” himself out as a fake boyfriend two years ago. He’s single.
“I wanted to earn some pocket money when I had just graduated from university and started to work,” says the Chongqing native who works full-time as an accounts manager. “This rental business isn’t bad, especially during the Chinese Lunar New Year when there are family reunions.”
Fan might not be handsome, but he’s attractive enough and he’s definitely reassuring to anxious parents who want their daughters to demonstrate they have a viable marriage prospect, a steady boyfriend.
On Chinese Single’s Day today, Fan and other rentable young men note that as the year ends, there’s more need for their services at New Year’s Eve parties with parents and the endless Spring Festival family parties of the Chinese Lunar New Year (beginning on January 30, 2014). Mid-Autumn Festival is another lucrative period of family reunions.
While some young singles are getting high at singles parties, some are quite low because they’re alone. They know they will soon be faced with ceaseless, annoying inquiries from nosy parents and relatives: Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet? When are you going to get married? You’re getting old.
Come on. Not again. But this badgering annual ritual cannot be avoided, especially at reunions, and some single men and women are turning to rent-a-boyfriend/girlfriend services to keep their parents and relatives off their back.
Fan, and advertises online — charges 800 yuan (US$131) per day in China and 1,500 yuan per day in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. There’s a three-day minimum and his employer pays transport, accommodation, dining and other fees.
“I only rent my time, not my body — you know what I mean,” Fan says. He has a girlfriend who doesn’t know about his moonlighting.
Type the keyword rent boy/girlfriend on Taobao.com, China’s largest online shopping website, and more than 250 search results pop up. They provide a range of services and prices range from 500 yuan to 8,000 yuan per day, or around 50 yuan an hour on average.
Services include accompanying clients back home to see their parents, chatting with parents, attending social gatherings, going shopping and taking part in various other activities.
The price list per hour can be quite detailed. In some cases, dining is 50 yuan an hour (the employer pays), shopping 30 yuan, seeing a movie 30 yuan (double price for a thriller). A by-courtesy-only kiss costs 50 yuan, which will also include a free embrace, free hand-holding and a free goodbye kiss on the cheek or forehead.
“It all depends on how you look at it. If you look at it as a business, then it’s much easier,” says 26-year-old Xu Li from Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province, a postgraduate of Shanghai East China University of Sciences and Technology. He works part-time as a simulated sweetheart.
Usually, he and his client exchange photos online and settle on services and prices. Then they meet beforehand for a rehearsal. She briefs him on her situation and her family; they establish the boyfriend’s job, salary, family background and how they fell in love.
“It’s okay if I use my real identity but if my client wants some embellishments, that’s fine by me,” Xu says.
Awkward things do happen. He recalls that he so impressed a young woman’s parents that they graciously invited him to spend the night in their daughter’s bedroom.
“I slept on the floor that night,” he says.
In this business, sometimes friendships and romantic relationships do develop between boyfriend/girlfriend and client.
“But who knows what kind of relationship will develop,” Xu says. “Business is business and I cut off all contacts each time the job is done. I’ve got my own life and I don’t want it ruined by some strangers.”
Rent-Me Work Studio based in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, is an online company recruiting young men and women part-timers all year round throughout China as stand-in love interests.
Opened in 2011, it has achieved a kind of reputation in the budding industry. It says that during the last Spring Festival it served 15 clients, and so far this year it has arranged 30 fake dates.
“It’s not as many as I expected, but we’re a serious, trustworthy platform for those who want to have a clean, efficient fake date to chat with and impress their parents,” says director James Han on telephone interview.
His “company,” which has no business license yet, charges commissions ranging from 50 to 500 yuan per event. Each client and boyfriend/girlfriend is required to sign a contract stipulating services, prices, working hours, insurance for injuries and loss of private property. It stipulates that if any gifts are received by the fake boyfriend/girlfriend from the parents, they must be returned to the client after the job is done.
Lawyer Wu Jiansheng in Zhejiang Province says any contract involving lending, leasing or trading involving human beings is illegal and not protected by law. “The contract is invalid,” he says.
Han with Rent-Me Work Studio admits that some people contact him for “other purposes.” One man called asking if the fake girlfriend would provide sex. The contract stipulates that the client should not compel their “sweetheart” to do anything against their will.
“I told him he could try if he wanted to spend years in prison,” Han recalls. “Then the man started to swear at me.”
Rented girlfriends are not as popular as boyfriends. Han’s agency has a team of 20 girls, who are based in various parts of the country. “One big reason is that there are more desperate ‘leftover women’ (sheng nu Ê£Å®), than men, and the other is that to rent a girlfriend is more sensitive and dangerous,” he says.
Business is brisk these days and Han is busy arranging counterfeit love interests for the 2014 Spring Festival starting on January 30.
Italian expat Joe Celano, 29, says he was asked by two female colleagues to be a fake boyfriend. Celano, who works in a fashion company in Shanghai, flatly refused.
He recalls a 27-year-old woman from northeastern China offered to pay him 8,000 yuan for a one-week trip to meet her parents during Spring Festival.
“That was ridiculous,” Celano says. “I’m a man of faith and I can’t accept this. It’s cheating. In addition, I think Chinese parents should bear part of the blame for their daughters’ desperation.”
Gao Yanfen, 32, who jokingly refers to herself as a “leftover woman,” says that despite her parents’ nagging about a boyfriend and marriage, she would never rent a man.
“It’s disgusting. I won’t cheat my parents, although they are really persistent and irritating. Come on. This isn’t romantic fiction. Who would fall in love with a man who betrays his faith for money?” she says.