"租女友回家过年", renting a girlfriend for the Chinese new year and taking her to meet the parents, is a practice that reveals the dating difficulties some Chinese men experience and it also indicates about some features of parent-child relationship in China.
"租女友回家过年" (zū nǔyǒu huíjiā guònián), 'rent a girlfriend to take home for the new year', also translated more simply to 'rent-a-date', is a hot topic in China for already a decade. This year, this practice seems to be discussed less compared to previous years, though this is not because the scope of the phenomenon has been reduced, but rather because few people are surprised by it.

The term "租女友回家过年" can be modified to ‘租男友'('rent a boyfriend') instead, and ‘过年'(new year) could be replaced by other big holidays, but now, with the new rabbit year on its way, the phenomenon becomes relevant again. This practice, as the name implies, is basically finding a date, who would be willing, for a decent salary, to accompany one to visit his parents during the holiday.

Who are those who choose to rent a date, usually by placing ads on popular websites? The profile is usually of a man, 25-30 years old, already not a student, still without a stable job or an inflated bank account, and probably not as good looking as Zhou Jielun (popular Chinese actor and singer, aka Jay Chou). Such a man doesn't see a serious girlfriend on the horizon, and his parents are, naturally, also quite concerned.

The main reasons (some would say 'excuses') expressed when justifying this practice are located on the line between showing filial piety 孝 (xiào), making parents less worried, and avoiding their constant nagging (唠叨láo dāo) for a change. These objectives are more intense in more 'traditional' families, whereas early marriage is promoted, though evidence show that 'rent-a-date' is also quite common in developed urban societies and even among the middle class. Being a single child in the modern society is quite a burden also when it comes to parents' marriage expectations.

As mentioned, girls are less likely to 'rent-a-date', though this phenomenon also exists. Renting a complete stranger is considered more hazardous to a girl than a boy. As for being 'rented', this obviously is also not worry-free, but a guy who publishes a serious ad is normally considered quite reliable and less of a risk.

How does it work? Websites or bulletin boards are the platform. "Looking for a girl-friend to come with me to spend the new year with my family, 1000RMB for ten days", is an example for a university bulletin board ad. The task is usually shorter than 10 days, though, and could also be completed in one evening, with a salary of 100-200RMB. A higher price also allows the 'renter' to be more picky, adding desired woman's weight, height  or other physical features in the ad. If he's living a lie, shouldn't he at least be able to enjoy it all the way?!

Even when being most sarcastic, it is a fact that sex is seldom involved in such arrangements. Sex is not the main point of this deal and also not very appropriate in the family surrounding. Though often there are hopes, usually of the renter, that such economic relationship could develop to a more conjugal one. It is rare, but facing the big 'meet the parents' obstacle in the beginning (even before getting to know the partner from close), might also induce a more serious tie among the couple later on.

The rented woman, besides making a nice salary, might also hope to be pleasantly surprised by the so-called unlucky bachelor. Furthermore, such woman can enjoy a warm family meal and receive some new year red envelope 红包 (hóng bāo) money from the parents to improve her cut of the deal. It's doubtful whether this prize could compensate her parents, though, who would have to tolerate one empty chair around the new year dinner table.

Returning to the man and his aim of showing filial piety, one might ask whether being dishonest to his parents and planting vain hopes in their hearts aren't conducts that are anything but being a good child? Most Chinese don't see things this way. Giving one's parents comfort during the holiday season is much more cherished than the authenticity of the plot behind it. Though this could elevate the expectations by parents even higher, many of them will either be happy to see that their child has a good date and that he puts an effort in bringing her home to make them happy, thus they won't question the honesty of such relationship too much.

However, not everything could be excused by filial piety. When a child pays a new year visit to his parents he often meets with neighbors, friends and other family members. Having a nice girl with him is also a way to improve his reputation (信誉 xìnyù) and to show off, proving that he's doing alright. Though this date is temporal, some 'date-renters' see this practice as a way to 安慰自己 (ānwèi zìjǐ), comfort themselves.

Internet discussions show that even most romantic Chinese admit that in terms of making parents happy, "租女友回家过年" is not a bad idea, though from the couple's perspective, they believe that picking a date in an economic manner is completely immoral, and that this method is choosing the easy solution instead of facing reality like a real man. More practical surfers see less harm in this new age holiday practice. In a modern age, when romantic free-choice love is obtainable, some bachelors want (or have no choice but) to go back in years make love no more than an arrangement, even if for one day only.


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