MEET THE PARENTS AND THE GIRLFRIEND

Chinese millennials are paying for fake relationships to fool their anxious parents

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

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.”)

The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao Yuqing and Wang Quanming (R) play with a dog at the apartment where Zhao stayed for a night in Quanzhou Fujian province, China. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)

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.

The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao Yuqing uses her mobile phone at her apartment before leaving in Beijing on Jan. 25, 2017. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao rides in a car on her way to Beijing airport. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao talks to Wang Quanming on her phone after her plane lands in Quanzhou, in Fujian province on Jan 26. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Before driving to Wang Quanming’s hometown, Zhao Yuqing writes down her conditions for posing as Wang Quanming’s girlfriend during their three-day visit with Wang’s family, in Quanzhou. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Wang Quanming poses for a photograph near his family home where he lived until he was 15 years old, in Anxi county, Fujian province. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Wang Quanming’s mother Nong Xiurong greets Zhao Yuqing when she arrived in Wang’s hometown. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao Yuqing (C) checks her mobile phone during a meal with Wang’s family. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Wang’s parents pose for a photo in front of their house in Anxi. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao and Wang drink tea as Wang’s family play cards. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao Yuqing takes pictures of fireworks on the eve of Spring Festival. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Wang Quanming takes pictures as Zhao Yuqing plays with fireworks on the eve of the Spring Festival in Anxi. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Wang’s mother (R) gives a pack of tea to Zhao Yuqing as a gift before Zhao leaves. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao Yuqing points to a pig during a visit to a farm in Wang’s hometown. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao picks bean pods with Wang. (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
The Wider Image: Hopes and expectations: the journey of a fake girlfriend
Zhao, Wang and Wang’s brother ride in a car after leaving Wang’s family home in Anxi (Reuters/Muyi Xiao)
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