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Wanted in China: blind date with a millionaire

Skills required: ironing, cooking, tying a necktie

Chinese Wedding 06 28 2013Enlarge
A couple have their picture taken next to characters Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel during a legal 'Hello Kitty Dream Wedding' in Hong Kong, 14 February 2007. (Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images)

HONG KONG — Want to marry a millionaire in China? You'd better be hot and know how to clean house.

At least that’s the message from a high profile mainland contest, and not everyone's happy about it.

Last week in Jinan, China, more than 1,300 women wearing exquisite make-up and elegant dresses were asked to iron, cook, and tie a necktie. The goal: to qualify for a competition that will match 50 women with 50 millionaires for a blind date this July.

The men’s identities are kept secret, but their net worth isn't. Organizers say they're worth an average of $25 million each.

In addition to being judged on their looks and cleaning ability, the women were asked to draw a picture for psychologists to evaluate. Organizers also interviewed their friends and colleagues to assess their associates and connections.

While the women spared no efforts to show that they would make perfect wives, the millionaires were not at the scene. Only when the field has been whittled down to 50 women will the millionaires show up for a final party.

News and photos of the event have triggered heated debate on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service. Although it wasn't the first time a pageant-style matchmaking gig created controversy, many micro-bloggers bitterly denounced the Jinan event as a sign of money worship, a serious social illness in China, they argued.

One Weibo user wrote: “Are we going backward to the feudal society where the emperor held mass-selection to choose his concubines? What a lamentable society, all about money, all after money, do the women still have their self-esteem?’’

Cheng Yongsheng, the CEO of the Chinese Entrepreneurs Club for Singles (CECS), which has organized the blind date for four times since May 2012, defended the event by saying that it serves a real need that rich people have.

“I had the idea of creating CECS in 2012 originally because one of my friends who is also a millionaire told me how he is frustrated about finding a wife. It struck me for the first time that even these seemingly omnipotent rich guys have their weaknesses and vulnerabilities just like normal people,” Cheng said.

Moreover, Cheng believes it is even harder for millionaires to find wives because they are not as resourceful and sociable as people assume. More importantly, they are so engaged with their work that they don’t have the time and energy to go on dates.

That’s where Cheng saw the market potential.

In recent years, China has grown obsessed with money and millionaires, thanks to the country’s economic boom and to the skyrocketing list of rich people. A 2010 study jointly conducted by Reuters and Ipsos revealed that 70 percent of Chinese agree that money is the best sign of personal success — a higher rate than in almost any other country.

As such events seem to show, love and marriage aren't immune to the influence of money.

However, criticism of that mindset is equally impassioned.

In 2010, a contestant on a TV matchmaking program attempted to show her determination to marry a rich man by saying she’d “rather cry in a BMW car than smile on a bike.” That remark immediately frayed public nerves, and ignited widespread condemnation of such millionaire-baiting contests that are gaining momentum in recent years.

Some argued that such matchmaking transforms women nothing more than men’s property.

Ma Guanghai, a sociology professor at Shangdong University agreed. “Although I don’t want to be judgmental on this matter, I felt it very improper in the light of gender equality. Women are inspected from every angle in the strictest way possible while the millionaires enjoy the prestigious right of choice just because they are rich, ” Ma said.

For 27-year-old Liu Ying, who participated a blind date selection this April in Chengdu, however, matters aren't so complicated. “I haven’t thought of money-worshiping stuff or anything related to gender discrimination. I came just because I want to find a husband as good as myself, whether it is in terms of education, background or salary. I just want find the right one who can match me. ”