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A Chinese couple show their marriage certificates. Registry offices saw a wave of couples eager to get married last week, as the date “11.11.11” was credited with being the century’s most auspicious. In a country of 180 million single people and growing gender imbalance, tens of thousands of people across China went looking for love on Singles’ Day, 11 November. But events on the day may only have helped point to the continuing and growing difficulty of being single.

KNOWN in Mandarin as “bare sticks day” – a reference to the four solitary “1”s in the date and a common term designated for bachelors - 2011 marks a particularly auspicious date that occurs only once a century.

The six “1”s in the sequence 11.11.11 combined to create what has been referred to in China as “Super Singles’ Day”.

More than ten thousand single people attended a matchmaking party held in Thames Town, a faux- European urban centre 30km from Shanghai. Two thirds of the participants were reported to be women.

Four thousand parents – anxious to see their offspring married off – also attended the event.

“We had to stop registration to prevent any possible chaos,” told Zhou Juemin, director of the Shanghai Matchmaking Trade Association, who organised the event.

The state newspaper added that the event was made up mostly of single women in a high education and income bracket who had failed to find partners with similar backgrounds and expectations.

China will have a surplus of 24 million men by 2020 according to government statistics, a result of the one-child policy and skewed birth rate.

Regional imbalance

However, most of the nation’s single men are located in the country’s impoverished rural regions where a preference for sons to help on the land and look after parents in their old age has led to a skewed birth ratio. China’s 2010 sixth national census reported that the gender ratio at birth stood at 118.06 males per 100 females.

Despite this, affluent cities are seeing the number of unmarried women rising, as careers and lifestyle take precedence over finding a husband.

In Shanghai, China’s financial epicentre, singles make up 20 per cent of the total adult female population.

The number of unmarried women in the city has increased faster over the last decade than the number of unmarried men, at 2.2 per cent since 2000 compared to an increase of just 1 per cent for men, according to the 2010 population census.

Despite modern lifestyles these “leftovers” - the derogatory term commonly used to describe an unmarried woman over the age of 27 – remain under pressure from families to marry. Single women above 35 are referred to as “high as heaven” – suggesting that these woman are often beyond reach.

Pressures to find a husband are rising in a country where wealth is a marker of success, and men must be able to provide an apartment and a car before they are considered suitable matches.

Looking for Mr Right

In the Thames Town match-making party women aged 30-35 accounted for the largest number of participants, say organisers.

“I believe in fate,” tells Liu, 24, who attended the party. Liu wishes to pre-empt becoming a “leftover” by finding a husband in the next few years. “I do hope to meet my Mr Right as soon as possible and this event is a chance for me.”

“The pressure I get because of being unmarried is mainly from my parents. They want me get married as soon as possible. And at present, blind dating is the most fast and efficient way to meet men,” she adds.

Meanwhile in the capital, more than 2,000 singles gathered in a large room inside a generic city centre mall for a matchmaking event organised by China’s largest online dating website,

Warm-up activities to overcome any awkwardness and facilitate an informal atmosphere included three- minute speed dates and a Guinness World Record for the longest kiss-chain.

Societal pressure

“These days, many leftover men and women are compelled to face stress from family, friends and society,” Qu Wei, vice-president of – a company that has over 47 million registered users – says at the event.

“Due to lack of time, most don’t have a chance to meet the opposite sex. We have held this event to provide an opportunity for singles to meet each other in a casual atmosphere.”

One participant Liu Xiaofei, 33, admitted that she came with little hope of finding a date.

“If I am dating now, it will be for the prospect of marriage. I came to have a look, but I don’t hold too many expectations because there are so many negative reports these days,” says Liu, a fashionably-dressed career woman.

“I am looking for someone who is mature and stable, 30 to 40 years old, who has a vocational graduate diploma at the very least and a decent financial background. I don’t care about his looks,” she adds.

At nearly 200 million, the number of singles in China is only set to grow, says Prof. Duan Chengrong, director of the Research Centre for Population and Development at Beijing’s Renmin University of China.