China, where the pressure to marry is strong, and the advice flows online
BEIJING — Every evening, Ms Liang Xuemeng goes online to read the latest postings from Ayawawa, one of China's most popular advice columnists.
"I've learned a lot from Ayawawa," said Ms Liang, 29, an office clerk in Beijing. "I wish I'd started following her before my first marriage failed."
Ayawawa is the online name of Yang Bingyang, one of several online advice dispensers who have won celebrity in China by tapping into urban women's anxieties about finding a man to marry.
A former model, the author of nine books and, she says, one of the first Chinese admitted to Mensa, the high IQ society, Ms Yang has 2.8 million followers on Weibo, a Twitter-like messaging service, and 1.3 million on WeChat, the social media platform where she answers her readers' questions.
"Since I was very young, even before I had my first relationship, I've been good at giving advice on relationships to people around me," Ms Yang said in an interview.
Although women in their 20s are greatly outnumbered by men in the same age group in China, a product in part of the since-abandoned one-child family policy and a cultural preference for sons, they face enormous pressure to marry. Those who do not have a husband by the age of 27 are routinely branded as "leftover women", with diminishing value in the dating market.
Many of these "leftover women" are well-educated urban professionals in a society where men prefer women who are younger and less successful than themselves. The surplus of bachelors shows up mostly on the other end of the spectrum, poor rural men, prompting the state-run All-China Women's Federation to urge women to lower their standards, lest they, too, end up as "leftovers".
The stress surrounding the search for a suitable partner has given rise to highly rated television dating shows and public matchmaking events. And to advice columnists like Ayawawa, who can detail the techniques for dating and marrying a man.
The columnists have their critics, who accuse them of reinforcing gender stereotypes, but the columnists counter that they are simply acknowledging reality.
"Our world has been hijacked by political correctness," Ms Yang said. "I'm criticised for telling the truth about the differences between men and women."
She compared managing a relationship to taking an examination. "If there's something wrong with the exam, it's not my job to change how it works, but to tell my followers how to take the exam and score a high grade under the existing circumstances."
Ms Liang wishes she had paid attention earlier. "Then I'd have understood the importance of a woman's MV and PU," she said.
As Ayawawa explains on her WeChat home page, "MV" stands for "Mate Value," and "PU" refers to "Paternity Uncertainty."
She elaborated: "A man's MV is determined by his age, height, looks, wealth, IQ, emotional quotient, sexual capacity and willingness to make a long-term commitment." The eight elements in a woman's MV are her "age, looks, height, bra cup size, weight, academic degrees, personality and family background."
As for PU, Ayawawa said, "In human evolutionary history, a man's great concern is that he cannot be certain if he is the father of his partner's child." So she advises her female readers: "Don't wear revealing clothes. Don't be always posting pictures of yourself drinking in a bar. Be a lady, speak softly, be modest."
Her suggestions to women include letting the man take the lead. Don't call him for the first few dates. Don't have sex for the first few months. In response to one young woman's request for advice about a suitor, she counseled, "Hold back. Make him invest more in you," meaning both time and money.
Ms Liang credits Ayawawa's advice with rescuing her romantic life. She is now engaged to marry.
Many of Ayawawa's fans consider her the personification of the success they crave for themselves: Attractive, married to a man she describes as a loving husband, the mother of two children.
By contrast, Mr Lu Qi, a popular online relationship adviser with 26 million followers on Weibo, owes much of his credibility to being a single man in his early 30s, who presumably knows firsthand what such men really think of women. He also said that his advice was based on extensive research in the social sciences and psychology.
"Chinese schools don't offer a proper education in love and relationships," Mr Lu said in an interview. "People get their ideas mostly from TV dramas."
Asked whether he really believed there were rules governing love, he said, "You can't measure love, of course, but there are some rules that apply to all relationships and social interactions."
He expounds on some of these in taped lectures he sells online, on such subjects as: "Teaching women to solve relationship problems in a scientific way. Overcoming lingering feelings from a former relationship. Fighting a — little third — a Chinese term for a third party in a relationship.
Mr Lu is also famous for sharing his doctrines on Weibo.
"For women, spending more time with a man deepens her love. But for a man, the longer he stays with a woman, the less he loves her," Mr Lu posted this month.
He said he wanted to empower women by teaching them to be pragmatists about what they want from men.
"In traditional China, women had an easier life," he said. "They didn't need to work hard and have a career, though, of course, they lacked certain rights. Feminism has made women's lives harder, not easier. I'm teaching women how to get ahead."
Ms Lu Pin, a founder of Feminist Voices, an online journal devoted to women's issues, said the counsel provided by online advisers underlined how Chinese society should change.
"Both of them advise women to manipulate men to gain material benefits," Ms Lu said. "The question is: Why in China is it women who scheme to get men to commit to marriage? Why, when it comes to marriage, are women the sellers and men the buyers? It's because women don't have the space to develop themselves."
She said economic progress in China had not been accompanied by progress on gender relations.
"It's sad to see, when the economy has produced so many more opportunities, that more and more women believe that getting married is superior to working hard and achieving a successful career," she said.
Ms Liang shrugs off such criticism of the advice she credits with helping her find a new husband. Sometimes Ayawawa fans meet on weekends to discuss how to improve their MV. Ms Liang, for example, is trying to lose weight and improve her makeup skills and is practising baking.
As for the charge that the online advisers promote a backward view of gender relations, she said: "The differences between men and women are inborn. I take these ideas seriously because I want a better life for myself, not because I'm eager to make the world better for women." THE NEW YORK TIMES