‘Granny Wang’s Matchmaking’: A large-scale dating arena for China's youths?

With young people in China seemingly less willing to date and get married, Granny Wang’s Matchmaking event in Henan province is proving to be surprisingly popular. Will such live events catch on more and spur young people to consider marriage?
"Granny Wang" interacts with participants on stage in Kaifeng, on 30 March 2024. (CNS)
"Granny Wang" interacts with participants on stage in Kaifeng, on 30 March 2024. (CNS)

A live matchmaking event called “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” that takes place at a scenic spot in Kaifeng, Henan province, has gone viral on the Chinese internet. Netizens have even dubbed Granny Wang, the host, as “Yue Lao (月老) the sales champion” because “no one can leave Granny Wang’s matchmaking event still single”. In Chinese culture, Yue Lao is the god of marriage and love.

Unlike scripted matchmaking TV programmes such as If You Are the One (《非诚勿扰》), this live matchmaking event conducted at the Wansui Mountain scenic area in Kaifeng is much more spontaneous and interactive.  

Dressed in traditional red and green Chinese clothing with a large red flower in her hair, Granny Wang randomly invites women to come on stage and asks them to introduce themselves and tell the audience their ideal type of man. Granny Wang then helps to scout for her partner right then and there.

Men at the event can raise their hands and interact with the women on stage. Successful pairs would exchange phone numbers and go through “nuptial rites”. If the matchmaking is unsuccessful, Granny Wang will give the “brokenhearted” some “silver notes” (银票, vouchers) to buy something from the scenic area as a consolation. 

The process may seem simple, but it is highly efficient. Chinese media reported that Granny Wang has already paired 40 to 50 couples a year into her role as a matchmaker.  

Kaifeng, an “ancient capital of eight dynasties”, has again become a hot tourist destination due to the popularity of “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking”.

"Granny Wang" at a live matchmaking event in Kaifeng, 28 March 2024. (CNS)
"Granny Wang" at a live matchmaking event in Kaifeng, 28 March 2024. (CNS)

And she has become increasingly popular online as well. Douyin topics related to “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” amassed over 6 billion views, while the number of fans on her personal Douyin account “Granny Wang from Kaifeng” (开封王婆) skyrocketed from 230,000 on 15 March to over 6 million in early April. 

Based on the videos uploaded by members of the audience, the venue is normally packed even before the start of the event. The event, which was originally ten minutes long, has also been lengthened to two hours.

Kaifeng, an “ancient capital of eight dynasties”, has again become a hot tourist destination due to the popularity of “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking”. Many netizens said that they have specifically planned to head to Kaifeng to attend Granny Wang’s event during the Qingming Festival holiday. Some netizens joked, “Everyone says that staying single is good, but everyone is still heading to Kaifeng.”  

Data from Tongcheng Travel (同程旅行) shows that as of 26 March, searches for Wuxia City scenic area at Wansui Mountain in Kaifeng increased by more than 700% in the past week, with ticket bookings soaring more than 200% month-on-month. And based on data from Ctrip, ticket bookings to Kaifeng have increased over five times year-on-year, and the city has made it onto the list of the top three most “unexpected travel destinations” during the Qingming Festival holiday. Kaifeng authorities have also specially convened a cultural and tourism meeting to study how they can turn this trend into an economic effect so that the city’s surge in popularity can be sustained.

The charisma of a ‘love magician’?

“Granny Wang” (王婆) is a stage name, the name of the matchmaker who paired off Ximen Qing with Pan Jinlian in the Chinese novel Water Margin. Although she is not exactly a positive character, the people who know the story of Wu Dalang and Ximen Qing would have a deep impression of the name.

n aerial shot of the crowd at "Granny Wang's Matchmaking" in Kaifeng, 30 March 2024. (CNS)
An aerial shot of the crowd at "Granny Wang's Matchmaking" in Kaifeng, on 30 March 2024. (CNS)

The actual name of “Granny Wang from Kaifeng” is Zhao Mei, a 61-year-old performer from the Dasong Wuxia City (大宋武侠城) scenic area at Wansui Mountain. Kaifeng is the birthplace of Song dynasty culture, which is also the theme of the scenic area. “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” was meant to be a programme that introduces everyday life in Kaifeng during the Song dynasty to visitors, but Zhao took the initiative to add matchmaking elements to it.

... compared with dating agencies that charge tens of thousands of dollars for their services, Granny Wang’s no-cost, on-the-spot matchmaking really makes people more trusting and relaxed, creating the heartwarming feeling that “everything is done with our best interests at heart”. — netizens

In February, the scenic area had invited various bloggers to experience what Wuxia City had to offer, and the lively and energetic “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” programme stood out, attracting netizens’ attention.

Chinese state media CCTV said in an article that the appeal of “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” is its authenticity and the fact that there is no decoy. None of it is an act and the people selected are from the live audience, while the sincere and relaxed atmosphere also gives participants a sense of security.  

At the event, Granny Wang acts as the women’s “godmother” and helps them to “find a husband”. She encourages the women: “Just tell me who you like and Godmother here will invite them to the stage.” She also tells the audience: “It is not embarrassing to get rejected!” When she sees a shy man, she would even teach them how to confess their feelings; if a woman fails to find a suitable partner, she also eases the awkwardness: “If you don’t like any of them, I will get all of them to leave the stage.”

More people are specifically travelling to Kaifeng to participate in "Granny Wang's Matchmaking". (Internet)
More people are specifically travelling to Kaifeng to participate in "Granny Wang's Matchmaking". The banner on the car reads: "All my matchmaking dates in Yiyang have failed and now I'm putting the pedal to the metal to Kaifeng. Granny Wang, wait for me!"(Internet)

Netizens feel that, compared with dating agencies that charge tens of thousands of dollars for their services, Granny Wang’s no-cost, on-the-spot matchmaking really makes people more trusting and relaxed, creating the heartwarming feeling that “everything is done with our best interests at heart”. 

Netizens even praised Granny Wang for being able to keep the mood on the ground lively and not awkward, even though participants are strangers, holding the audience’s interest and being even more entertaining than many variety shows on television.  

However, Granny Wang’s show also had its share of controversy and drama. For instance, a divorced couple of three years took to the stage and after Granny Wang’s mediation, they tearfully embraced and decided to reconcile. In response to suspicions that this was scripted, staff claimed that the participants were truly “picked at random”.

Another male participant who was successful in being paired on stage was revealed to be in fact married, which also drew accusations from some that matchmaking at the location was treated like a game without any background checks done and was not a serious marriage recommendation; young people were advised to “go in with eyes wide open and be wary of being duped”.  

... the popularity of “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” points towards the fact that youths still hold a lot of expectations about love, and many actually hope to find their other half... — Peng Kaiping, Dean, School of Social Sciences, Tsinghua University

Youths still have matchmaking needs?

Experts felt while Granny Wang’s boom in popularity has been given a push by bloggers and viewers, the fact that the show was able to draw in such a large number of participants attests that though the current generation of youths seem uninclined to get married, they still have matchmaking needs.

People are seen on the Nanjing pedestrian street in the Huangpu district, in Shanghai on 30 March 2024. (Hector Retamal/AFP)
People are seen on the Nanjing pedestrian street in the Huangpu district, in Shanghai, on 30 March 2024. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

Peng Kaiping, dean of the School of Social Sciences at Tsinghua University, said the popularity of “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” points towards the fact that youths still hold a lot of expectations about love, and many actually hope to find their other half. He added that 70% of people need help from others to find their other half. 

In fact, the attitude towards matchmaking is changing. Marriage and dating website Jiayuan.com released a report last year which said more than 50% of post-00s youths can accept matchmaking as a means to find a partner, and compared to the previous generation, they are beginning to seek matchmaking at an earlier age.

Statistics show that post-70s men started matchmaking from 26.4 years old onwards, while women did so from 25.4, but for the post-00s generation, males and females could start matchmaking from as early as 20. 

The people’s need for a “matchmaking corner” in cities is also on the rise. According to a report by Chinese official media The Paper (《澎湃新闻》), from last year onwards, many netizens from areas such as Beijing, Urumqi in Xinjiang, Yan’an in Shaanxi, Gaoping in Shanxi and so on have been calling on their governments to set up matchmaking corners in local parks.

A Beijing netizen suggested that a park in Tongzhou be designated as a matchmaking corner, citing the social issue of mature youths' difficulties in finding a partner. According to the netizen, while the matchmaking corner at Beijing's Zhongshan Park is used by parents to help their children find a partner, it's a long way from Tongzhou to Beijing.

... the support for “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” does not so much reflect a desire to get married, but rather young people's hopes to break out of their circles and go on dates.

A large-scale dating arena

Some people are getting hopeful after reading such news: are the young looking to get married again?

People watch cherry blossoms at a campus in Nanjing, in eastern China's Jiangsu province on 24 March 2024. (AFP)
People watch cherry blossoms at a campus in Nanjing, in eastern China's Jiangsu province on 24 March 2024. (AFP)

However, from netizens’ comments, it is too soon to draw such a conclusion. On the one hand, parents are still the main "players" at matchmaking corners. On the other hand, at the location of “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking”, not all are interested in dating for marriage.

A netizen from Xiaohongshu who attended the event in person shared that tourists thronged the event, and many exchanged WeChat contacts without going on stage. She likened it to a music festival: one is there to watch the show, make friends, or even go on an impromptu date if someone catches your eye. Another netizen said that going on dates is not hard, but marriage is a whole other matter.

From the looks of it, the support for “Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” does not so much reflect a desire to get married, but rather young people's hopes to break out of their circles and go on dates. At the same time, a holiday mood and the relaxed atmosphere at scenic spots also help reduce real-world obstacles to dating, helping the young open their hearts.

“Granny Wang’s Matchmaking” has broken a certain stereotype about young people's desires for relationships and marriage. However, one cannot rely on a popular online show to spur change. Less interference and pressure, and a little more sincerity à la Granny Wang, could perhaps be the catalyst to promote dating and marriage in China. 

This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as ““王婆说媒” 年轻人的大型交友场?”.

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