China's TV Dating Shows: For Love or Money?
For a small but increasingly high-profile number of young women in modern-day China, true love is all about the numbers. A potential suitor may have a good sense of humor and reasonable good looks, but what they say really matters is if he owns an apartment and how many square feet it is. A sizable bank account is also a must, and, some say, so is a luxury car.
At least, that's the way things look if you watch Chinese television these days. Though China was slow to pick up on the reality-programming trend, a host of dating shows and American Idol copycats have emerged in recent years, capturing millions of viewers but angering critics who say the programs promote negative, non-traditional values among urban Chinese youth. The latest reality-TV scandal to transfix the nation involves Ma Nuo, a 22-year-old model from Beijing who appeared on China's most popular dating show, If You Are the One. She haughtily rejected an offer from a male contestant to take a ride on his bike, epitomizing the materialism that some say has come to define the nouveau riche of the post-1980s generation. "I'd rather cry in a BMW car than laugh on the backseat of a bicycle," Ma told her suitor with a giggle.
The televised smackdown swept the Internet and made an instant celebrity of Ma, who left the show without a match but has since entertained numerous television offers and become one of the most talked-about women in the country. The backlash among young Chinese was especially severe, reflecting growing anxieties over the widening gap between rich and poor, shifting societal values and the difficulties of finding a mate in a country where men are expected to outnumber women by 24 million in a decade. (China's 30-year-old one-child policy has caused a disproportionate number of families to abort female fetuses in hopes of having a son.)
"A lot of people see chastity as important as one's own life, but Ma Nuo, a shallow, sharp-tongued, single girl, treats her chastity like used toilet paper because she wants to be a super star," one netizen, Wang Xi Jie, wrote on the popular Internet forum Tianya.cn. "Yes, the world needs money, but your idea that money is the master of everything is not right." Of If You Are the One and the handful of other dating shows like it, another blogger, Xie Yong, wrote on the Web portal Sohu.com: "The most controversial aspect of these programs is the value contestants place on money worshipping and rich people. These opinions are so contrary to traditional values, like loving one's country and respecting one's elders ... But we can't do anything if these people just like ugly things."