Just another love story?

The most-watched show during the virus period provokes a gender debate


Song Qian: must choose between a younger or older man in her new role

With parts of China still in residential lockdown, people have been looking for creative ways to relieve the tedium. Homemade videos on Douyin (also known as TikTok outside China), show some of the ideas on offer, including playing snooker with chopsticks and tomatoes, and even a bit of fishing in aquariums in the living room.

Others have flocked to online video sites for entertainment. On Sunday, audiences were so anxious to catch the finale of South Korean drama Crash Landing on You that the traffic crashed the servers of HanjuTV, an online streaming platform for Korean content.

Also generating a lot of buzz online was a local TV show called Find Yourself. The romantic drama, available on Hunan Satellite TV as well as the broadcaster’s own video-streaming site has dominated the primetime ratings, accumulating about three billion views since its debut in late January.

It follows the love life of He Fanxing, played by actress-singer Song Qian. She’s a senior executive at an interior design company but single at 32 because she is so focused on her work. Enter Yuan Song, 22, a talented intern at the same firm. He’s a free-spirited type, who only shows up at the office when he feels like it. Naturally, he’s a bit of a heartthrob as well (he’s played by Song Weilong). One drunken night, He and Yuan become romantically linked.

To paraphrase the English saying about buses, after a long wait for love, two possibilities suddenly appear at once. In this case He finds herself aggressively pursued by Ye Luming (Wang Yaoqing), an older and highly accomplished advertising executive, and the series follows her struggle to decide between the two romantic options.

“Even though the storyline is really garbage, I am embarrassed to admit that I am completely addicted … It reminded me of myself 20 years ago – nay, three years ago – when I fell in love for the first time,” one viewer enthused.

Others weren’t as enthralled, however, especially viewers that expressed themselves unimpressed by He’s “illogical” and “irrational” thinking on which of the men to choose: one that was “marriage material” or another that was 10 years younger?

“Can you find a TV show any more corny than this one? And besides, ask any 32 year-old woman and not one would pick Yuan Song [the younger suitor],” one blogger thundered.

“I would definitely choose Ye Luming,” another netizen in her 30s chimed in. “I think it is really a matter of age. If I brought a boyfriend 10 years younger than me to a party, I would be so afraid of people talking about us. I don’t think I am strong enough to ignore all the background noise, ” she admitted.

Still, He’s dilemma resonated with more mature viewers.

“My age is quite similar to the lead and I also struggle with the same issue: do I choose a person who is very compatible with me at this stage in life but that I don’t have that much chemistry with? Or do I go with someone who is objectively incompatible but gives me butterflies? It is a very difficult decision. The fact that He’s decision – based purely on a fictional story – has generated so much debate online, one can only imagine how much scrutiny a woman endures in real life,” a television critic wrote.

The debate also points to some of the traditional thinking that shapes views on romantic relationships in Chinese society. “When it comes to love and marriage in traditional societal norms, men can be much older than the women they marry. But older women marrying younger men will be looked down upon,” another blogger mused.

What the show also suggests is that in Chinese culture, marriage is not as simple as following your heart, another commentator adds. “A lot of the conflicts depicted on the show certainly exist in real life. When it comes to a relationship, it is not just about two people falling in love. They also have to consider society’s perceptions and the feelings of their families,” the TV critic opines. “No one wants to be the subject of gossip and intense scrutiny. So that’s why He and Yuan would rather hide or lie about their love.”

The anecdotal evidence is that more women in China are seeking out younger partners. According to one statistic, marriages between older women and younger men have been increasing by a fifth every year. “Women in this era, compared with the previous generations, are far superior and they have a lot more choice,” says I’m Meng Meng, a relationship blogger. Perhaps the much-discussed gender imbalance in Chinese society gives some women the confidence to wait longer to find a husband too.

The changes are happening at a time when weddings are coming later in life for both sexes.

The average marriage age had risen from 22 for women and 24 for men in 1990 to 25 and 27 respectively in 2016 – an increase typically attributed to the impact of rapid economic growth. Simply put, the marriage age get higher as societies get wealthier, which is a conundrum for policymakers in China, as they are now looking for ways to boost the birth rate.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.