Many young people face crushing pressure to show off a sweetheart when they visit family on Lunar New Year, the biggest and longest holiday in China. It's spurred a growing trend in "rental boyfriends," fake beaus who charge as much as a month’s average salary – and a dollar a pop for hugs.
The Chinese even have a phrase to describe a woman who reaches her late twenties without marrying: they call her “leftover woman.” It’s cause for a family crisis.
And those who are gay face a similar predicament: homosexuality is very much underground in China.
Beijing-based rental boyfriend Zhu Ruisen says the Lunar New Year holiday – which started a few days ago – is a peak time in his line of work.
“There is a big demand: many clients have this need,” Zhu said, speaking through a translator. “There are many hits on the [web] advertisement. It’s very popular.”
Zhu is new to the game. He is a student and heading out on the road this week for his first multi-day paid gig.
He will be travelling more than 400 kilometres with a stranger to meet her family in Shandong province.
“I asked for a little over $500 and she talked me down to about $475,” he said. “But she will be paying for the flight tickets and hotels.”
And like so many things, there are always extra fees.
“For example, to go shopping together will be $10 an hour. The movies will depend: a thriller is more than a comedy.”
Holding hands costs $1 per time, hugs the same and kissing is to be negotiated. Sex is not part of the deal.
The total price tag will be close to the average monthly salary in the region he’ll be visiting.
Meanwhile, his actual girlfriend has already left Beijing to visit her parents, alone, and Zhu says he didn't fill her in entirely on his own holiday plans.
"It's a bit unclear," he said. "I didn’t tell her much."
Maybe when he gets back from the job, he will be able to afford to make it up to her.
On the streets of Beijing, opinions on this trend range from understanding and agreement to anger and disgust. To hear those reactions and more from Zhu, watch the full video report from the CBC’s man in Beijing, Andrew Lee, posted above.