Mixed matchmaking industry a money pit
June 21, 2010
By Li Zhixin
Four years ago, a 37-year-old Chinese woman working in Shenzhen met Stanislaw Tyminski, then a contender for the Polish presidency, through an online-dating site.
It wasn’t long before she was whisked away to Canada for a flash wedding.
Many matchmaking agencies eager to pair single local women with foreign men have been keen to retell this Cinderella story.
But these eager women rarely learn what happened to their glass slippers — and their money.
THe government frowns on mixed matchmaking, but not enough to codify its prohitition. Chasing huge profits, many gray agents sell the promise of happiness abroad. CFP Photo
Fairy tale no more
Zhang Lan, 44, a sales representative, was stunned when she found the offices of Zhongmei Jiayuan matchmaking agency abandoned.
Only several months ago the agency was bustling with women desperate for a mixed marriage.
In Zhang’s case, her husband died in 2004 and she set her heart on making her next spouse a foreigner.
One day she found an Internet post promoting Zhongmei as having a very high mixed matchmaking success rate. She phoned the agency and arranged to meet with a representative.
A woman surnamed Wu told her Zhongmei cooperated with several matchmaking agencies abroad. If Zhang paid to become a member, they would upload her picture and information to the foreign sites and help introduce her to foreign clients.
“When I asked how I could be sure the information is true, she assured me that the men in the database were strictly screened by their foreign partners,” she said. “She told me that most men were middle class and interested in Chinese women, and that the success rate of their matches was consequentially quite high.”
Wu told her the foreign men would usually aid a woman in getting a visa and moving abroad.
Zhang said her dream came with a 40,000-yuan price tag: of course, she could pay in installments.
“Their contract said I had to pay 20,000 yuan up front to become a member and another 20,000 when one of their men decided to marry me,” she said.
After paying the initial membership fee, Zhang was allowed to scan through their albums and pick her favorite man.
“Wu helped me narrow down my choices and after an hour I settled on one of the men, a 45-year-old British man who owned 2 hectares of land and several chain supermarkets,” she said.
“Wu promised me that I would be in touch with the man within one month and said she would call me when he gave her a response.”
Zhang was daydreaming about life in the UK when she left the agency. In the following days, Wu called frequently with status updates. She told her the man would be coming to China next month to meet her in person.
She counted the days in anticipation, but grew suspicious when Wu’s calls stopped coming.
Several days later, she called Wu a dozen times hoping to fix a date, but found Zhongmei’s office line had been disconnected.
A market in chaos
Most agencies use the same tactics to hoodwink divorcees, spinsters and widows.
The initial membership that enables the client to view potential mates abroad costs 20,000 to 60,000 yuan. More money follows after a successful match.
“No one can supervise their procedures. Even if they find a guy for you, you will never know his true identity. All you see is a picture, and possibly forged personal information,” said Yang Tianfang, 38, a divorcee with limited English skills.
Yang said she was not allowed to communicate with the potential mate the agency located.
“I was asked to use the agency’s assigned email address to communicate through an intermediary. The agency said this was so it could help translate,” she said.
“I was never allowed to see any of the emails before they were translated, and when I wrote back, the agency once again acted as the gatekeeper. Only the agency knows if any of those letters were actually from a foreigner.”
Yu Jing, a marriage counselor of Yinke Law Office, said, “I’ve seen a 20 percent increase in the number of clients looking for lawyers to sue these matchmaking agencies since last year.”
Victims are generally women between the ages of 40 and 55. They are rarely competitive in the local marriage market. Usually years of work or a broken marriage killed their passion and they are seeking a change through a foreign spouse, Yu said.
“One thing they all have in common is that they dream of getting foreign citizenship and leading a rich life after their marriage. They are also united by their poor English,” she said.
Aside from matchmaking agencies and online dating sites, many translation agencies engage in the marriage business. On the surface they advertise expensive translation services, but they actually provide work as a go-between for clients seeking a foreign man.
“Our translators are professionals at wooing foreign guys. They can help you to make a favorable impression. If you can’t speak English, we can be a stand-in,” said Huang MeiHui, a worker at Meizhiyuan Translation Company.
In order to cover their tracks, some agencies have no physical office. When this reporter attempted to phone Yueyangyuan, a similar Beijing-based mixed matchmaking agency, to arrange an office consultation, its receptionist hung up the phone and rejected all calls.
Industry short of laws
Technically speaking, the mixed matchmaking industry is banned.
In 1994, the General Office of the State Council issued a Circular on “Enhancing the Administration of Mixed Matchmaking Service” and called for a prohibition of the agencies.
The circular was issued to protect Chinese women from been defrauded, or at worst trafficked.
However, the circular was just that: a letter. It has no legal bearing. The huge demand and profits drive many agencies and online-dating sites to do the business regardless of how much the government frowns on their business.
“The policy is 16 years old and now terribly out of date. We don’t need to shut down the mixed matchmaking market — we need to regulate it and force these agencies to make sure the men they are recommending are really who they say they are,” said Ren Yuanzheng, a member of the National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
“It’s a matter of protecting Chinese women’s rights.”
Yang Lixun, director of the Institute for Social Development at the Shenzhen Academy of Social Sciences, suggested the government attempt pilot operations in several cities before passing national regulations.
“The Chinese Matchmaking Industry Association of Social Workers Committees (CMIA) should establish an information platform for mixed marriage-seekers,” said Zhao Jin, president of 21xiehou.com, a matchmaking site.
“I think if CMIA steps up and asks similar foreign bodies to recommend trustworthy matchmaking agencies it will do wonders to improve the credibility of mixed matchmakers.”