Young Chinese women in swishy dresses and strappy sandals sit in a row clutching forms that list their weight and measurements as they wait for an interview with the “appearance consultant”.
Dressed as if for a beauty contest, they are among more than 1,000 bidding to make it to the next stage of this bizarre competition — the chance to join an exclusive group of 50 vying for marriage to a multimillionaire.
The testing process screens everything from looks and education to family background and astrological compatibility. The 50 lucky qualifiers win the chance to meet 32 men worth at least 100 million yuan ($16 million).
Although it is at the extreme end of the scale, the matchmaking event arranged by the China Entrepreneur Club for Singles in Beijing reflects the growing challenges of finding a spouse in modern China.
“I don’t need to be so rich. I’m just saying I want the ability to have a good lifestyle,” said Zeng Xie, 25, wearing thick mascara and a delicate dress as she slipped out between interviews to check in with her mother.
Zeng’s mother, who gave only her surname, Niu, rated her daughter’s chances of finding love in the city as low, and bemoaned her unwillingness to return to the family’s home town.
“She’s got a lot of great qualities, so she has quite high standards,” said Niu. “Kids these days are working and they are so busy, they don’t have time to make friends.”
Experts say the material demands of some young Chinese have escalated as the country’s wealth has grown — with home ownership a common requirement, according to Yale sociologist Deborah Davis.
Davis says that transient urban lifestyles have combined with frenetic social change, booming wealth and more relaxed sexual mores to complicate the process of finding a partner in China.
The escalating demands of potential spouses have come under the spotlight in recent years thanks to popular television dating shows featuring materialism so outrageous that worried authorities forced them to dial them back.
One female contestant famously rebuffed a potential suitor, saying she would “rather cry in a BMW car than laugh on the backseat of a bicycle”, while another requested 200,000 yuan ($31,000) to allow a man to shake her hand.
Many of China’s flourishing dating websites and other matchmaking businesses target the ultra wealthy, said Wu Di, a psychology consultant and television personality who discusses dating and marriage.
The China Entrepreneur Club for Singles requires men to verify their net worth and pay a 200,000 yuan ($31,000) fee. Half are divorced and half of those have children — factors that might give some women pause.
The criteria for women are pretty exacting. They should be 20 to 28 years old, 165 centimetres (five feet four inches) or taller, beautiful and gentle with at least a junior college education.
Contest founder Cheng Yongsheng stresses that they also screen women for character, putting them through a multiple-round two-month process of “in-depth tests” and interviews with family.
They cannot be too poor or they will be gold-diggers, nor can they be too rich and not appreciate the value of hard-earned money, he said.
On Sunday women were assessed not only by the appearance consultant but also three others asking questions such as how did they handle stress, how would their parents describe them and what did they want in a man?
Several insisted they cared about more than money.
Zeng said she was perfectly content to live on her 30,000 yuan monthly salary and, as an occasional model, did not lack potential boyfriends. She sought a husband who was responsible and treated her as an equal.
Chen Li, 29, wanted a life partner of good character and sighed that this might not be the best place to find him.
“Rich, divorced men just want a young and pretty woman who can have babies,” she said, adding that she did not think she fitted the bill. “Being successful and being good are not the same thing.”