and marriage are modern China's twin obsessions, and would-be princess brides
had their chance to pursue both in Shanghai at the weekend.
As they boarded Captain, a square-rigger decked out in pink balloons dubbed
"the millionaires' love boat", they braved not only prurient onlookers and the
Shanghai rain but the unseen men, selected for their wealth, who had picked them
in advance from a catalogue.
The event was a match-making cruise for the rich only, a first even for
China's new capitalism, and all 50 participants were granted anonymity by the
organisers to save the face of any who may be rejected.
But one entrepreneur, who gave his name only as Mr He, agreed to speak to The
Daily Telegraph beforehand, saying he had decided that at the age of 40 it was
time to settle down and find a wife.
"My mother and my sister have tried to introduce me to girlfriends," he said.
"But the problem is, if I don't like them it means lost face for their families,
and that causes difficulties for mine."
It has taken the end of communism for a revolution in love and marriage to
sweep China. Mr He's mother would argue for the traditional approach, whereby
match-making was conducted by families.
While things changed when the Communist Party came to power, the difference
was often that party officials organised matters. Even until 2003, couples had
to seek permission from their "work unit" to marry or divorce.
Now many seek romantic love, but as the middle classes pursue a
post-communist dash to prosperity, many are discovering they have sped from the
age of arranged marriages straight to that of Bridget Jones with nothing
"My mind was very clear -- I wanted to establish my business, then to set up
my family, and only then to find a wife," Mr He said. He and his family live
between their home city of Guangzhou, in southern China, Hong Kong and San
The "love boat" was the idea of Xu Tianli, who runs a high-end dating agency
and the home page of whose website, 915915.com, is headed with the single
English word, "wealth".
The numbers 915 are a Chinese pun on the words "only want me".
Xu Tianli required men who signed up for the cruise to be worth two million
yuan - about 140,000 pounds. Most had 10 times that, putting them easily among
China's half a million estimated dollar millionaires. Women had to be both
exceptionally pretty and educated to degree level.
As they sailed past the colonial-era buildings on Shanghai's waterfront, and
the skyscrapers of the financial district on the other side, the lucky few
mingled, dined by candlelight, or retired to private rooms for one-on-one
The fee was a hefty 2,000 pounts, but that included a year's membership of
the agency and, of course, free entry for three members of the opposite sex
chosen from the company's books.
Most of the millionaires doing the choosing were men, but some were women. "I
am already a member, and have found a 'target'," said Miss Lu, who owns a
manufacturing business and arrived early in a white BMW. "But here I have one
more chance to look at the field."