ROMANTIC LOVE: A young man presents a bouquet to his girlfriend under water at an ocean park in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, on Valentine's Day (WANG ZHENWU)
In China, as in most other parts of the world, marriage has traditionally been seen as one of the most significant events in a person's life.
In the past, marriages were arranged by parents or other elderly family members and most young people would be married shortly after they reached adulthood in their late teens or early 20s.
Today, however, the pace and pressure of the modern world have completely changed the current generation's perspective on marriage. People are marrying much later in life or choosing not to marry at all. The way they seek their partners—increasingly through online dating websites—is also radically different from a generation ago. In almost every sense, the institution of marriage in China is seeing radical change.
Jiayuan.com, one of China's leading online dating platforms, published the Marriage Survey of the Young Chinese 2011-12 on February 13, 2012. Based on 85,439 responses to a questionnaire by young people from a range of different backgrounds, the survey provides an insight into the prevailing attitude to marriage in China.
The most striking statistic to emerge from the survey is the number of people who are simply not getting married. In 2005 approximately 4 percent of people over 40 were unmarried; by 2010 the figure had risen to 12 percent.
As social expectations still place a heavy emphasis on marriage, some of those who have not found partners are increasingly desperate to meet suitable mates. The reasons for the increasing proportion of unmarried individuals are manifold.
Economic pressure, the difficulty of affording an apartment in particular which is often seen as a prerequisite to marriage, leads many to postpone marriage.
Social changes have also delayed the age of marriage and sometimes people are willing to wait until they find their "Mr. Right" or "Miss Perfect."
However, beyond these social and economic factors, there is a deeper demographic issue behind the rising proportion of unmarried individuals in China; China has fewer women than men. According to a report published by National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2010, the ratio of unmarried men to women at the age of 27 reached 199:100, and the number increased to 293:100 at the age of 33. China's unbalanced gender ratio can be attributed to the fact that Chinese parents prefer boys to girls.
Despite major changes in attitudes toward relationships and marriage, some things remain consistent, with Chinese young people demonstrating much more fondness for arranged meetings than their Western peers.
"According to our survey, 92 percent of interviewees would like to look for proper partners through an arranged meeting," said Gong Haiyan, CEO of Jiayuan.com. Therefore, arranged dates are still an important way for single men and women to get to know each other.
"Parents' and friends' recommendations and Internet dating sites are the main sources of arranged meetings," said Gong.
The Internet has become an enormously popular forum for dating and matchmaking. This huge demand has produced a number of online dating agencies, especially dating social networks, in recent years. Well-known online dating websites include Jiayuan.com, Baihe.com, and Zhen'ai.com.
Jiayuan.com, founded in 2003, claims to have over 40 million users. More Chinese are turning to the virtual world in order to find real world romance.
"I had a clear purpose when I browsed through the information of girls on Jiayuan.com," said Li Xinyuan, a 31-year-old Beijinger who holds a Ph.D and works for the Laboratory of Intelligent Technology and Systems of Tsinghua University. "I think it is an efficient way to find an ideal life partner."