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'I'd much rather weep in a BMW'

IN a controversial new TV dating show, 24 women "judges" vote on a single guy and if he passes he can choose one for a date. It raises questions about demands of today's material girls. Xu Wei reports.

There's a popular saying among young Chinese women who are seeking Mr Right: "I'd rather cry in a BMW than laugh on a bicycle." In Shanghai the low-end alternative is a motorbike or modest Santana.

These words also swirl about on the Internet, show up on T-shirts and on TV dating shows where they stir controversy about today's perceived grasping, material girls.

New shows featuring many female judges evaluating guys turn the spotlight on what women want in the man they marry.

Ma Nuo, a 22-year-old print model from Beijing, became the center of controversy recently when she appeared on the popular new matchmaking program "If You're the One" on Jiangsu Satellite TV.

"I'd rather cry in a BMW car than laugh on the backseat of a bicycle," Ma responded when she haughtily rejected a young man's offer to take her for a ride on his bike. Netizens were generally enraged, heaping scorn on her, labeling her the "BMW Lady," and saying she shamed the post-1980s generation. Ma quit the show in discomfort.

But that's all okay. Now she's a star. Her modeling career took off and she's a hot item on TV talk shows and entertainment programs.

On a Star TV talk show, Ma repeated her requirements for a man and also talked openly about her first sexual encounter.

Now some TV talent shows have invited her to be a judge; an online video program about the FIFA World Cup has invited her to be a soccer commentator. It is said that Ma can now charge as much as some well-known actresses.

Since it debuted in January, "If You Are the One" dating show has challenged traditional Chinese dating show formats in which men and women are usually equal in number.

Every Saturday and Sunday at 9:20pm, a jury of 24 single women with different educational backgrounds, careers and personalities watch a single guy's introductory video and then question him.

Then they vote by pushing lights and buzzers to determine if he should remain on the show. If he passes his 10-minute trial, a guy can choose one of the young women for a date. In each hourlong show, five guys undergo scrutiny. The jury remains the same, while the chosen woman is replaced.

The truth is Ma is far from alone in her material requirements for marriage. Millions of Chinese women, and their parents, are like her, stirring a controversy about values.

Material girls

Other women on the show have been labeled material girls by Netizens, though many Netizens are sympathetic.

Saleswoman Zhu Zhenfang appeared on the show and was quite candid about why she voted against some guys again and again. She was asked by the host if she would choose the guy who makes her happy or the guy who can buy her a luxurious house. Zhu didn't hesitate.

"I can tell by their appearance that they can never afford a luxury house."

Zhu also refused to shake hands with a young man who just wanted to say hello to all 24 single women.

"Only my boyfriend can shake hands with me. Others must pay 200,000 yuan (US$29,282) for the privilege," she said on the show. "Why 200,000 yuan? Because my basic criteria for my future boyfriend is that he must earn this amount of money each month."

That caused an uproar and she was called an outrageous snob.

Many people observed that both the young women and the TV station were just trying to be provocative to promote themselves and increase ratings.

"No one believes you can find the right person after a 10-minute Q and A," says Kevin Yang, an IT worker. "It's just show biz with dramatic scripts and temptations of money and fame. Like talent shows, this is a choice for people who want to become famous overnight."

In all this commotion, some psychologists have come to the defense of women who insist on material security, though they do say demands have gone too far.

"It's hard to pass judgment," says Zhang Zhenyu, a veteran psychologist from East China Normal University.

"Look at the animal world. Females usually choose the strongest and healthiest mate so that good genes are passed to their offspring and the family is secure," he says.

"The only difference in the human world is that houses and money can provide a sense of security, even if it is illusory and temporary. The logic and principles of survival remain the same."

Of course, women choose those who are economically superior, he says.

"My advice to them is to make their criteria more flexible. It doesn't matter if the man is rich at this time. What matters is earning potential and his desire to become a better person."

The show's producer, Wang Gang, isn't fazed and says so far 200,000 young men and women have applied for the "love reality" TV program.

"We understand some people may find our program a little radical and unrealistic. But we want to show different people's true feelings about love and marriage," he says. "We just give them a stage, and never judge."


The program also raises topical issues such as housing prices, pressure on white-collars, and women's ties with their mothers-in-law, he says.

The show's casting department carefully selects a jury representing women of diverse ages, family backgrounds, economic status, careers and education - the one criterion is that they be articulate and willing to express themselves in front of a camera.

Though few, if any, of the women have found true love in the six-month-running show, many have received dating requests.

Xu He, who holds a PhD in chemistry from Brown University (US state of Rhode Island), impressed many viewers with knowledge and eloquence. The 32-year-old professional has received hundreds of e-mails from men expressing interest and she's dating one of them.

"The show has increased the dating options of people who devoted many years to study and career," she says.

Those who want to play it safer gravitate to Shanghai Media Group's "Date on Saturday," which started in 1998 and has attracted 7,000 singles. The show claims its matchmaking is responsible for 300 marriages.

Producer Zhao Feirong says the show has a solid fan base because it's authentic and really helps people.

"We don't go for media hype and manipulation," says Zhao, adding that the show will update its interactive sections to cater to more people.

It now features modern "speed dating" and psychologists who interpret singles' body language and comment about whether young people are attracted to each other.

So-called love experts advise young people, who may be shy and inept, about good manners and communications skills in relationships.

The show features couples singing love songs together and sending each other do-it-yourself gifts.

The show plans to launch a segment "Moms and Dads" about parents who are anxious to see their children married and help them find dates. It's inspired by the city's many parents who gather in parks over weekends, holding signs describing their sons and daughters and exchanging information.

Since many young people are absorbed in their careers, they cannot devote sufficient time to the all-important issues of marriage and starting a family. So parents join the dating game on behalf of their adult children.

"Date on Saturday" also addresses the issue of the city's "leftover girls" - those who are in their late 20s and early 30s and still unwed. They usually have good education and decent jobs.

"Traditional Chinese norms really put a lot of pressure on women who don't get married before 30. It seems unfair for them," says producer Zhao, noting that Western families and society are much more tolerant of single women who choose their own lifestyle and are not driven to marry.

Since it's especially hard for "leftover girls" to find the right man these days, Dragon TV has decided to help, launching a new dating show, "One Out of 100" on Fridays at 9pm.

The program, which calls itself an updated "Date on Saturday," gathers three female singles and 100 male bachelors. The women are attractive and successful workers. They can choose a date among the gents who introduce themselves and demonstrate some skills, interests or talent.


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