In China, a popular chain restaurant matches lone diners with oversize teddy bears.
Even more so on the Qixi Festival or Chinese Valentine’s Day.
The 2,000-year-old festival originated from a folk tale that a fairy called Zhi Nu married a mortal called Niu Lang.
The Goddess of Heaven, who was against their marriage, separated them by the Milky Way after the couple went to heaven as two stars.
Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a group of sympathetic Magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for the day.
On this romantic day, restaurant managers believe the teddy bear can help single customers
“feel at home… not isolated and treated with warmth”.
A waitress suggested one reporter choose between a large teddy bear and a stuffed yellow chicken.
For the sweet toothed, the Seven Colour Rainbow Bakery makes a “single dog cake”.
“Single Dog” is internet slang for those who are single or unattached.
In the shape within the shape of a pooch with lolling tongue, it’s 20 percent more expensive than the bakery’s usual dessert.
It still represents 15 percent of sales.
“People buy these cakes for their friends as a benign joke,” a staffer surnamed Liu told AFP.
Even Burger King offers a special discount meal for singles on Chinese Valentine’s Day: A burger, a fried chicken thigh, and a smoothie.
Leftover Women and Single Dogs
Nearly 200 million people are single in the country of almost 1.4 billion, many resisting family and cultural pressure to settle down.
In recent years, the Chinese mass media has tried very hard to promote marriage.
The smears for single people include:
“unmarried youth in old age” (no one knows what age range a “youth in old age” falls into)
“leftover women” (women who remain unmarried in their late 20s and beyond)
“single dogs ” (all single people, both male and female, could be referred to as dogs)
“empty-nest youth” (a phrase developed from empty-nest elders)
“defeated dog” (attractive, successful women who are losers because they’re single)
The number of Chinese people who would have been married by now in previous generations exceeds the total combined population of the United Kingdom and Russia.
The traditional preference for male over female offspring has resulted in 34 million more men in China than women.
Despite social smears and national pressure, more and more Chinese adults are choosing to stay single.
Mass Blind Dates
In Beijing and Shanghai mass blind date events are held for Chinese Valentines in parks and stadiums.
They draw crowds of thousands, who flock in search of a spouse, often coming on behalf of their relatives.
At this modern spin on China’s old marriage markets, singletons’ parents trade CVs, photographs and degree certificates.
A traditional attitude is that an unmarried person in their 30s as an embarrassment at best, and a disaster at worst.
The weight of this burden is so big that the industry for “fake” boyfriends and girlfriends is booming in China.
The “leftover” term is most often used to apply to educated urban women who prioritize their career above starting a family.
Sheryl Sandberg notes:
“One thirty-six-year-old economics professor was rejected by fifteen men because she had an advanced degree; her father then forbade her younger sister from going to graduate school.”
Yet, the high-earning urban single female population is now a major economic player.
Online flower retailer Reflower claims almost 80 percent of orders come from female customers.
More than half, they say, buy flowers to “comfort themselves.”
But, instead of crying into their posies, Chinese women seem to want to enjoy their lives.
Travel agency Lvmama says solo bookings almost doubled in the first half of the year over the same period in 2016.
In the first 11 months of 2016, solo travelers accounted for 15 percent of the millions of travelers monitored by China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper.
An increasing number of women are turning to egg freezing as a means of having it all.
Since the Chinese government forbids unmarried women from freezing their eggs, some are freezing their eggs overseas.
There is a WeChat group advising unmarried women how to have children through unconventional means including egg freezing.
In urban areas especially, Chinese parents seem to be saying to their girls: ‘Don’t settle. Only marry if you want to marry, only have kids if you want to have kids”.
Singles can be stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, and still live happily ever after.