A parent’s prying into their adult child’s choices can be one of the great stresses in life. Right now, some parents in China seem to be stretching that pressure to its new extremes.
In China, where marriage rates are quickly declining, anxious young men have found a new way to allay parents’ fears about their personal future: hire a fake partner. Reuters reports that this strategy, which is begging to be adapted into a romantic comedy, has taken off through the ease of smartphone apps. Date-finding services like Hire Me Plz have reported 700,000 users.
To explore the burgeoning trend, photographer Muyi Xiao documented one woman who posed as a girlfriend for hire and travelled to a man’s hometown village to meet his family.
Beijing-based blogger Zhao Yuqing, 24, wanted to understand the rental-girlfriend experience. So she found a client, website operator Wang Quanming, 30, and together they concocted an elaborate lie for his parents about their supposed long-distance relationship. During the lunar new year holiday earlier this year, they spent time with Wang’s family over meals, explored the village where he grew up, and watched fireworks together.
(That, says Zhao, was the extent of their fake relationship. Both had pledged to keep the arrangement strictly professional—a written contract stipulated ” no kissing, sleeping together or drinking alcohol.”)
But after the trip, Zhao says she felt guilty. “At first I thought I was going to help, I convinced myself not to feel guilty, but not I’m not sure,” she said in an interview after the weekend. “I can’t solve their problem, and I have misled them.”
Wang eventually came clean to his mother, who seemed more confounded than upset. “I’m over 50. I don’t understand what these young people get up to, but I wasn’t angry,” she told Reuters.
Nevertheless, the pressure remains. “My mother’s core demand for me to marry early still exists,” said Wang.