While the mean age of marriage is rising, marriage is still nearly universal among the Chinese.
According to Shang-Hsiu Koo, CFO of Jiayuan, the largest Chinese online dating website, what users value most in a potential match are education level, age, height and residency (in China, having a residency permit, in a top-tier city is highly desirable because only those with permits have access to public services and certain employment opportunities in that city).
In addition, for men today to be taken seriously, they must own a car and hold a deed to an apartment.
It is sometimes the case that what a westerner believes to be polite is sometimes completely the opposite of being polite in Chinese culture.
One example would be in the giving of gifts, in Chinese culture it's actually rude to open a gift in front of the giver!
These marriage markets are a logical extension of the traditional Chinese matchmaking culture, where family elders drive the screening for, and selection of, their child’s future mate.
At the same time, however, there is an entirely different market in operation, one where millions of exchanges happen daily, and the “shoppers” are the singles themselves.
This is the world of Chinese online dating, a nascent industry that has taken off and is expected to break two billion RMB (US8 million) in total annual revenue by 2014, according to a recent report by Analysys International.
What is interesting about Chinese online dating is not only its rapid growth in a conservative society that frowns upon courting more than one person at a time, but also its potential to change the social norms that are part of dating both online and offline.
But the “goods” being hawked by the seasoned ladies behind the stalls are not scarves or souvenirs, but rather singles.