If you are the foreign one

A foreigner takes part in dating show Fei Cheng Wu Rao on May 22. Photo: CFP

On June 2, New Zealand traveler Joel Mckinlay - who gave himself the Chinese name Yang Shuo - stood on stage of dating show Fei Cheng Wu Rao in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, in front of 24 young Chinese women who are based in New Zealand.

Speaking fluent Chinese, with a hint of a Taiwan accent, he bantered with the hosts in an effort to get attention from his prospective dates.

"I lived in Taiwan for so many years, and most girls I have met are Chinese, so I've become accustomed to getting along with Chinese girls," Joel told the Global Times Sunday.

"Unlike foreign girls who always keep talking during a chat, showing no respect to others, Chinese girls are generally more considerate," said Joel. "Maybe they're influenced by traditional Chinese culture, Chinese girls are good listeners."

Fei Cheng Wu Rao, or If You Are the One, produced by Jiangsu Satellite Television, is the most popular televised dating show in China.

Foreigners have become an increasingly common presence on TV shows like Fei Cheng Wu Rao, but despite the large fan base, many are skeptical as to whether the show is actually a route for foreigners to stable relationships - particularly given the cultural differences involved - and whether their increasing presence is merely a ratings grab.

Rating love

According to Beijing-based CSM Media Research, the audience ratings for Fei Cheng Wu Rao - which has now screened a total of 343 episodes by Saturday - were 2.77 percent of television viewers, or 36 million, twice as many as the nearest competitor for that timeslot.

In each episode, 24 women evaluate each male contender as he reveals his personal information and his friends comment on his personality via film clips. Women decide whether he is date-worthy or not and ask questions of their own.

The show is not without its detractors however, which boomed in number after one female guest, Ma Nuo, sparked controversy by saying that she would prefer to cry in a BMW than laugh while riding on the back of a bicycle. Accusations the show was encouraging materialism were quick to emerge.

Zhou Xiaopeng, the chief marriage expert with matchmaking website baihe.com - a partner of Fei Cheng Wu Rao - told the Global Times that to boost ratings, the show attempts to gather a wide variety of contestants - including foreigners. Zhou said that while it's easy for foreigners to find dates in China, there are often hidden pitfalls and differing expectations of relationships.

Meanwhile, somewhat ironically, Zhao Feng, a Baihe PR representative, said that their website currently doesn't allow the registration of foreigners, as the registration requires a Chinese ID number, but they offer manual registration if they submit a copy of their passport.

Real relationships?

 "It is interesting to see which guys get shot down immediately by the 24 female candidates, and which can make it to the very end," said John Pasden, a linguist from Florida who has been living in Shanghai for about 13 years.

"It could be staged, or at least quite fake, but the show has captivated China's younger generation; in some small way, this is modern China. And it wants to be noticed," said Pasden.

Meanwhile, some fans acknowledge that it isn't as "real" as a normal date, but don't mind.

"It seems guests on stage are playing a game according to a set of rules. They are amusing audiences, though it doesn't mean they are just performing," Jian Yuanyuan, a PR agent in Beijing and a big fan of the dating show, told the Global Times.

"Sure, it's not possible for them to be certain they have met their love in just several minutes," said Jian. "The audience doesn't have to be too serious. After all, it is just a show."

The increasing presence of foreigners on dating shows has inevitably prompted comparisons.

"I always sigh after seeing young and promising foreigners failing on the show. They are too frank and say things inappropriate for match-making talk, which makes them seem alien," said Lu Di, a DJ in Beijing.

In contrast, Long Mou, an ice hockey commentator, noted the increasing number of foreigners and asked "in what aspects are Chinese men, who are nice and hardworking, falling behind?"

It is common for foreigners on the show to pass through many rounds but still leave without finding a girl.

"This has suggested that the worship of foreigners has ebbed," said Wang Aijun, the manager of a lubricant oil company in Qingdao, Shandong Province, adding that it was common in the past to see a poor and unattractive foreigner taking the arm of a beautiful young Chinese girl, but times had changed.

Culture clash

Zhou pointed out that foreigners have advantages in terms of the fact they don't care as much about the age or job of prospective dates, but they face other problems if they marry a Chinese person.

"Apart from language barriers, they may hold different values with the Chinese, which are deeply rooted in their culture and are difficult to change." Zhou said one of her clients broke up with her foreign boyfriend because he couldn't bear having her parents stay at their home during Spring Festival, traditionally a time for family reunion in China.

Zhou also said she believes that many foreigners don't fully understand China. "All they have learned is the old feudal culture, which says that women should stay at home raising children and doing housework. I also met one who didn't want his girlfriend to be a model or an actor, as he thought that was not appropriate for Chinese women."

"They should respect and adapt to each other's culture, such as inviting the Chinese parents to have dinner during festivals," Zhou said.

Zhou also suggested developing a deep understanding of each other's background before getting married. Meeting with their friends and family, as well as talking about certain issues, could help expose problems in the relationship, so they could decide to adjust or accept these problems.

In the end, Joel and his match, a Chinese nurse named Ai Cenyi, just became friends. However, he still hopes to find a Chinese girl and move to China to become an actor.

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