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'Even the wisest judge cannot solve family problems' - Chinese proverb

A masked woman perches on a sofa and accuses her mother-in-law, seated opposite and wearing hat and sunglasses, of dropping in all the time and bullying her. The older woman retorts that the younger takes more interest in fashion than her husband. The masked man sits quietly with his spouse.

Enter straight-shooting, commonsensical Aunty Bai to sort things out, telling it like it is, sometimes before a thrilled middle-aged TV studio audience.

The blunt 60-year-old mediator (more like an arbitrator) cuts through family squabbles and discord, often with wit and sarcasm ?? it can hurt. In generational disputes, the grassroots problem solver frequently sides with the older generation.

Aunty Bai, Bai Wanqing, has been known to exclaim: "You're so stupid! Even a child could figure this one out." And at times, she has seemed on the verge of hurling a water bottle at the stubborn, thick-headed complainers, who just can't seem to get enough of her tongue-lashing.

Once there was a dentist who drilled the wrong tooth, and sought her mediation.

A man who was dating two sisters at the same time went on the show ?? so did the sisters.

He wore shades; one sister wore a mask.

Aunty Bai is the acknowledged twice-a-week (days not fixed) star of "Old Uncle," a daily, half-hour-long dispute mediation show on the local Entertainment Channel. It airs at 6:30pm, sometimes in Shanghai dialect.

Once a neighborhood community officer, Bai has become a celebrity who runs commercial matchmaking salons and cultural courses for young people and seniors.

She is a member of the Shanghai People's Congress. She runs a Website and a couple of blogs for matchmaking and conflict resolution.

Aunty Bai is ordinary-looking, of medium size, with short hair and simple clothes, sometimes just pants and T-shirt.

People pound on her office door in Jing'an District, pleading for advice, but she turns many away. She's so busy. "Fame," she says, "is somewhat tiring."

"Watch my TV show," says Bai, who was also too busy to spare much time for Shanghai Daily. "Read the published materials," she advises, adding that she gets stressed out when she is mobbed on the street by fans.

Since the show started about a year ago, around 50 mediators from around Shanghai have tackled the generational, marital and neighborhood feuds of hundreds of people, who enthusiastically air their petty grievances and dirty laundry.

Participants are paid a few hundred yuan to appear, they use surnames only or pseudonyms and often disguise themselves ?? sunglasses, large masks, big hats. It is hilarious.

"Many disputes are common all around us ?? we focus on real-life issues," says "Old Uncle" director Yin Qingyi. "We offer the audience good problem-solving techniques that they can apply in their own lives."

Other well-known mediators on the show include Tao Xingzhi from Xuhui District, Lu Jindi from Zhabei District and Ye Deping from Pudong.

Traditionally reserved Chinese once wouldn't think of airing family problems, but now some people seem to crave attention. "Old Uncle" isn't the only mediation show.

Wan Feng, 63, is known as the "angry host" and his barbed brusque style is similar to Bai's.

The Hangzhou native rose to fame in 1996 on late-night call-in programs, "The Mailbox of Eden" and "Staying Together Till Dawn." They covered family, marriage, relationships and sex. He takes a scalpel to the emotional problems of urbanites, and is often tough, if not rude, with help-seekers.

Back to Aunty Bai.

People clamor to get on the show to talk about love and marriage, divorce, problems with kids, controlling parents and in-laws, family spending, housing allocation disputes, inheritance conflicts, annoying neighbors, barking dogs ?? nothing is beyond the incisive, hard-earned wisdom of Aunty Bai.

The Shanghai native, who has a son and grandson, is known for having gone through hard times, and many people identify with her.

Middle-aged and older viewers are riveted to her show, though most young people are not turned on.

"My parents love it, but I think it's just a talk show seeking high ratings," says 29-year-old Qiu Zhonglin. "I don't think people can get the right advice from Bai. She interrupts too much. A good mediator should listen first, then talk."

But Dai Lingling, a retired worker, says she and her family never miss Bai's show.

"Bai's clever sarcasm, repartee and the way she ends a family fight always leave us stunned," says Dai. "As a grassroots star, she understands our problems in this changing society."

Dai and her sister went out of their way to visit Bai's office last week, asking about maintaining good relations with relatives. She treats visitors the way she treats TV guests.

They were constantly interrupted, Bai was also on the phone and was answering e-mails.

"I'm busy, my work is tiring, and I'm hyperthyroid," Bai says. "I can't take too much pressure."

The click rate for her two blogs is more than 250,000 per day, she says.

"I am always at work and have no time off," Bai says. "In fact, I don't want to live under spotlight. Few people my age like such changes. Now I leave little time for my family."

Poor Aunty Bai.

"Old Uncle"

Entertainment Channel

Daily, 6:30pm (days of Aunty Bai's appearance are not fixed)

Hotline: 5870-2626

Wisdom of Aunty Bai

Sister act

Two elderly sisters with very different personalities seek Bai's help. One is in her 70s and divorced, the other is 12 years younger and never wed. They live together.

On the show, they both wear out-sized black sunglasses. The younger woman is still quite fashionable and sociable.

Outgoing younger sister invites a lot of people to the house for dancing parties. They make noise, stay up late and interrupt elder sister's sleep.

Older sister complains bitterly, while the younger one says big sister is stingy, a kill-joy, and doesn't offer snacks to her friends.

One day enraged big sister takes a pair of scissors and destroys 63 dancing costumes belonging to frivolous little sister.

The younger demands 10,000 yuan (US$1,463), too much for a retiree.

The elder refuses.

Aunty Bai scolds both of them, and settles it: 4,900 yuan.

In-law hell

In this mother-in-law case, it's the wife's mother who's the tyrant. The wife, wearing big shades, appears meekly with her husband and mother-in-law. Neither wears sunglasses.

The man, around 30 and non-Shanghainese, married into the wife's wealthy family three years ago, in a case of ru zhui, or "going into wife's family." No child yet.

They live with mom. The white-collar husband drives mom's car, and they always dine together. The older woman buys his clothes and every day sets out his suits - from underwear to shoes, socks and necktie. Mom doesn't want the family to lose face because the man doesn't dress tastefully.

He says she's too domineering, while she complains that he's selfish: She does everything for him but sometimes he doesn't come home for dinner, and sometimes walks with a female colleague or even drives a female friend in her car.

The wife, overwhelmed, is quiet.

Bai tries to save the marriage and tells mom to back off, warning that her daughter will suffer. She scolds the daughter for not smoothing things out between her husband and the mother.


Bai convinces an impoverished diabetic sufferer not to end his life. The crew of the show donates 2,000 yuan (US$293) to the family and a Website hires the man's daughter.

Baby name

Bai directs a young couple not to quarrel about naming their baby - the wife had insisted on including her surname in the baby's name. The husband was opposed. Bai tells the wife not to be so pigheaded and tells her to give up. The name idea is dropped. They focus on the kid's future.

"Flash Marriage"

Bai helps a troubled "flash marriage" couple - "flash" meaning marry in the morning, argue at midday and divorce in the afternoon. The 23-year-old husband wants higher education abroad and feels marriage is limiting his future. Bai calls him selfish. The couple compromises and the wife goes abroad with her husband.


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