Television’s girl power

Why millions of Chinese are watching a TV show where girls criticise guys

Television’s girl power

Ma: looking for love and a BMW

Two years ago, Feng Xiaogang’s blockbuster film If You Are The One topped the mainland box office, earning Rmb320 million. The movie – starring Ge You and Shu Qi – is a romantic comedy that tells a tale of a man who goes on a series of blind dates to find a wife.

Today, If You Are The One is causing a buzz again. But this time it’s not the movie but a matchmaking TV show – of the same name – that’s got people talking.

The programme, produced by Jiangsu Television, is broadcast on cable across the country twice a week. It features 24 women looking for a Mr Right. Since it was launched in January, it has dominated the prime-time rankings. Internet message boards are devoted to intricate analyses of each episode aired.

And this is how it works: a single man will walk into the studio and introduce himself to the women on the panel. Each of the women sits next to a light. The man gets snap-judged on his looks and attire, among other things. If the women decide the man is not for them, they switch their lights off. The show progresses through a series of rounds until either one woman is left or all the lights are off (and the poor suitor is completely rejected).

Since the same girls come back each week, some have become household names. Ma Nuo – a 20-year-old model from Beijing – is undisputedly the crowd’s favourite. She is also the most controversial, delivering the most curt remarks. It helps she has a shapely figure, too.

In one episode, Ma turned down a man who said he liked to cycle: “I would rather be crying in a BMW than smiling on the back of your bicycle.” In another episode, she rejected a man she thought shabbily dressed: “You are 30 but you dress like you are 13 to come to the show, clearly you don’t respect us!”

Other women have had their fair share of sound bites. One bachelor was rejected because “you still dream of being a musician… whoever ends up with you is doomed.” Another got the boot for his bad attitude: “You are like a baby crying for milk. You need to grow up.”

Critics say If You Are The One has touched a chord because it is an honest reflection of social trends. When it comes to love and marriage, modern Chinese women are said to be far harder to please than their mothers or grandmothers. The girls of the one-child generation – born into China’s more materialistic post-1978 reform era – have a demanding list of criteria for would-be husbands.

“I look for satisfactory material conditions and similar family background in a husband, not just emotional attachment,” says Deng Liting, a 22-year-old graduate in Guangzhou. “Plus men must own an apartment before looking for a wife. That has been a pre-requisite among all the women I know.”

Deng is likely one of the tens of millions of viewers who tune in to If You Are the One. Given her own demands, she will not be shocked that few men make the grade on the show. Less than one in 10 are deemed sufficiently eligible for one of the 24 girls to agree to date them.

The flipside of this is a growing social problem. Successful Chinese women – well educated, well paid and independent – find that, as they approach their thirties, the number of men meeting their requirements is diminishing. This leads to the growing number of what are termed shengnu, or ‘leftover ladies’.

According to a survey released by the All-China Women’s Federation, 41% of single women in China were worried that they might not be able to find the right person to marry (while only 8.1% of single men felt the same way), although 44% of those said that they would not lower their standards just to get married.

Of course, such angst is not unique to China – remember the line in Sleepless in Seattle that “It is easier for a woman to be killed by a terrorist after the age of 40 than it is to get married.” But it certainly helps to explain why Chinese women have made this the country’s top-rated show.

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