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“Chinese people still put their faith in destiny,” she told the new employees. We’re giving people the freedom of love.”After the orientation, Gong took the elevator back up to her office, on the tenth floor, and finished the day, as she often does, answering letters in her capacity as “Little Dragon Lady,” an advice columnist attuned to the specific problems of the People’s Republic.
“They say, ‘Oh, I’ll get used to whatever happens.’ But you know what? She flipped through messages from anguished bachelors, meddling parents, and anxious brides—many of them current or former members.
few days before the Year of the Dragon began, Jiayuan (Beautiful Destiny), China’s largest online dating service, summoned new employees to an orientation meeting at its headquarters, in a Beijing office tower. O., peered at a dozen new hires and informed them that they were now in “the happiness business.” She did not smile.
Over the holiday, single men and women across the country would be returning home to visit relatives—only to find themselves interrogated relentlessly about marriage prospects. Afterward, Jiayuan’s enrollment would experience a surge similar to the New Year’s surge at fitness clubs in America. When Gong, who is thirty-six, talks about the happiness business, she tends to emphasize “price/performance ratios” and “information asymmetry.” The company, which she founded in her dorm room nine years ago, in order to find a husband, accounts for a sizable portion of China’s online dating industry and is traded on Nasdaq.
“We’re not like you foreigners, who make friends easily in a bar or go travelling and chat up a stranger,” she once told me. Our membership has a very clear goal: to get married.”Of all the upheavals in Chinese life in the past three decades, there is perhaps none more intimate than the opportunity to choose one’s mate.
For years, village matchmakers and parents, factory bosses and Communist cadres efficiently paired off young people with minimum participation from the bride and groom.
But nobody seemed to know how to make the most of that freedom.
Above all, Gong frames the search for love as a matter of fortitude.
Heaven, she wrote, “will never throw you a meat pie.”Growing up, Gong Haiyan never considered herself a catch.
(“If anyone ever liked me, I have yet to hear about it.”) She spent her childhood at the foot of a mountain in the village of Waduangang, in Hunan, the home province of Chairman Mao. During the Cultural Revolution, they were paired because they had been branded as “well-off peasants,” one of the Five Black Categories.
When Gong was sixteen, her test scores got her into the top local high school, a transformative moment for a farming family.
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I wondered if the story was a metaphor—until I met her mother, Jiang Xiaoyuan.