China's Fake Boyfriends
Reviewed by Hannah Lau
China’s Fake Boyfriends
Daniel Holmes, Filmmaker
Produced by Aljazeera
China, 2016, 25 minutes
Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles
Available on YouTube.
With Chinese New Year only two weeks away, there is definitely an energy in the air. Everyone is shopping, planning trips home, booking dinners and gatherings. Underneath this flurry of festive activity lies a very real and difficult social struggle. Every Chinese New Year, single young adults go home to their families and receive an onslaught of questions and comments about marriage from a well-meaning but incredibly desperate older generation.
Some of the usual questions include:
Are you dating anyone? Why not?
When are you going to get married?
When are you going to get serious about finding someone? You’re not getting any younger.
If your job is so demanding, how will you find time to meet someone?
Why can’t you be like so-and-so’s daughter, she’s already found someone.
This goes on for days and the pressure is often unbearable.
In recent years, young singles have resorted to hiring fake boyfriends and girlfriends to bring home to meet their families over the holidays. Though it’s not a permanent solution by any means, the temporary reprieve is better than nothing, even if just for a few days.
Filmmaker Daniel Holmes, who moved to China in 2013, often heard conversations in the office where his female colleagues would share how “their parents would endlessly arrange embarrassing blind dates, or the supposed jokes that if they get any older they'll forever be a spinster.”
Holmes found this intriguing and his decision to investigate further formed the idea of this film.
The documentary centers around a 27-year-old woman named Li Chenxi. She’s originally from Harbin but works as a landscape designer in Beijing. She enjoys her work, has friends, and a satisfying life in Beijing. But parental pressures are overwhelming and so she decides to hire a fake boyfriend for Chinese New Year.
We follow Chenxi from the selection process to when she brings her fake boyfriend, Sean, to meet her family. Naturally, she is nervous throughout the entire ordeal, and rightfully so as it is all incredibly awkward. She doesn’t want to lie to her family but she also feels like she doesn’t have a choice.
For better or for worse, her parents see through the ruse. There is obviously disagreement as to why this ploy was necessary in the first place but surprisingly, no one gets outraged. The key moment when conflicting cultural expectations ultimately collided was when the mother points out that this is all fake. She could tell. A parent knows her child. She was never convinced, not even for a second. It breaks her heart to know that her daughter had to go to such lengths. In that moment, the disappointment is almost palpable.
Throughout the month of February, millions of single young adults will be going through this in some shape or form. It is another one of those social dynamics that remind us that China is still indeed a deeply complex mix of the old and new.
“We see in the film that China is still in the throes of transition. On the issue of gender equality in particular, the country's old ideals hold less relevance, but must still be humoured.” Daniel Holmes
This is a good film to watch with local friends. It’s short, engaging, and can open up to a wide variety of conversational topics. With the film as a starting point, your Chinese friends will likely feel more comfortable sharing their personal thoughts on family, marriage, parental expectations. Give it a try!
Header image credit: The place by Marcus Nunes via Flickr.
Text image credit: China’s Fake Boyfriends, Aljazeera.
Hannah Lau is a marketing consultant for ChinaSource, managing external communication and marketing processes including social media. Originally from Canada, Hannah served for a time in China where she began her career in advertising. A few years ago she left the corporate sector and took her skills to the non-profit... View Full Bio