Source: Xinhua | 2013-2-15 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
VALENTINE'S Day is a particularly embarrassing time for many men and women looking for love in China, where it's traditionally considered shameful to remain single after 30.
This year, the Western holiday fell on the fifth day of the Chinese lunar New Year, in the middle of family gatherings and feasts that often focus on gossip, including who is getting married and who is going to have a baby.
Lonely hearts are then forced center stage. Well-meaning aunts and uncles work to arrange dates that promise to ruin the rest of the holiday.
"I am either on a date or on my way to the next date," one microblogger posted.
"I was forced to go on two dates during the first four days of the holiday," said Cheng Xiaonian, an office worker in Taiyuan, capital of north China's Shanxi Province. "I was not in the mood to meet anyone, but my mom called me a weirdo, saying I was immature, unsociable and too picky."
Cheng, the only child in her family, is 29, a borderline "old maid" as far as her mother is concerned.
"I know how people will look at me and my family if I remain single, and I know precisely how my mom feels," she said. "But I'm still a green hand at my current job and I'm under heavy pressure. I don't have the time or energy for dating."
Like most of her peers, Cheng said she believes her "Mr Right" is waiting for her somewhere. "I will meet the right person at the right time. These forced dates will not work," she said.
Despite their reluctance, it's always difficult to turn down a warm-hearted aunt's invitation to a "private chat" at a restaurant or coffee shop, only to find a complete stranger of the opposite sex, often equally uneasy, struggling to strike up a conversation.
"My parents worry that their only son might end up to be a bachelor for life and relatives simply enjoy nosing into others' private lives," wrote one male microblogger. "As a result, I live like a zoo animal, being watched and commented on by different people every day."
Wang Zheli, 36, gained overnight fame this week after his dating experiences were highlighted by a newspaper in east China's Zhejiang Province.
Wang, who runs a Chinese restaurant in Italy and is single, had arranged to meet 18 girls in 20 days.
His dates included teachers, nurses, government employees and private business owners like himself, and were at locations ranging from cafes, restaurants and theaters to temple fairs, or crowded Spring Festival gatherings featuring acrobatic shows, song and dance performances and stalls selling snacks and souvenirs.
Though not every lonely heart is as busy as Wang, they all feel the pressure. An online poll conducted by matchmaking service baihe.com found that more than 80 percent of respondents under the age of 33 felt pressure regarding love and marriage, saying they felt guilty about being unable to find love.
As the pressure mounts, some even rent a boyfriend or girlfriend to accompany them home to make their parents happy. Such "rent-a-date" services have been popular on shopping website taobao.com for at least the past two years.
Two weeks into her homecoming in east China's Jiangsu Province, Wang Hui, who works for a firm in Beijing, has found herself at the center of every conversation in her extended family of at least 40 people.
"Fortunately, my parents didn't arrange any dates for me. But it's still uncomfortable when everyone asks the same question: 'Are you getting married yet?'"
Wang Hui, though, says she is eager to get married and have a child. "Last year, my friends and colleagues arranged many dates for me, but none lasted long."
This was discouraging for the otherwise confident and outgoing woman. "Even my younger brother is getting married this year. Unless I can find my match, I'm not sure if I will still dare to come home next year."