Romantic swindlers prey on pressure to marry
Published: Nov 14, 2013 07:08 PM Updated: Nov 14, 2013 10:59 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

An odd phenomenon has emerged of late: Shanghai has seen a spate of romantic swindlers, with a number of women being conned out of thousands - sometimes millions - of yuan by men who promise marriage.

Baoshan District People's Court in November sentenced a married Baoshan man to seven years in jail and ordered the man pay back 330,000 ($54,120) yuan he swindled from two women he had promised to marry. The man claimed he was single and started relationships with the women after they met on a social networking platform. The man managed to acquire 330,000 yuan from his victims by claiming that he was building a house and paying off debts.

In another case, a jobless married Chinese man, surnamed Chen, pretended to be a Singaporean wine businessman and swindled a lawyer out of 500,000 yuan. At the same time, Chen dated two other women. Chen cheated 360,000 yuan from a woman who owns a foot massage parlor in Jing'an district, reported Jiefang Daily. As in the previous case, Chen had promised to marry his victims, making the women believe it was necessary to help their future husband.

Shanghai residents, especially women, have a reputation for being sharp-thinkers and very prudent as far as money is concerned. People may wonder what made these Shanghai women, many of them successful professionals, vulnerable to such a scam.

There are several similarities in these cases.

First, the swindlers are usually handsome middle-aged men. They claim to be single and longing to settle down and marry. They tell the women that they have their own business and find reasons to "borrow" money in the name of business.

Second, the women are usually beyond their early 20s, some in their 30s. They have some amount of savings after years of working hard. They likely face constant social and familial pressure to get married, so they may be desperate to find Mr Right.

Third, the swindlers take advantage of the women's eagerness to get married. They present themselves as the ideal candidate for a husband.

Here we have to mention the unique leftover women or shengnü phenomenon in China. The pejorative term has been widely used since 2006 to refer to unmarried women over the age of 27. The legal age of marriage for Chinese women is 20.

Usually a woman is 22 or 23 years old upon graduating from university. Generally speaking, the majority of Chinese students do not find a spouse during their four years at college, though campus romances are common. Then, for the first few years of a professional career, great importance is attached to one's job. Many young career women find they are in an awkward supply-and-demand situation when they finally feel they can consider marriage after gaining recognition from colleagues and establishing a foothold in their company or industry.

This group of women will rarely consider fledgling new graduates for two reasons. Convention dictates that a husband be older than his wife. A couple where the wife is four or more years older than her husband is frowned upon. Therefore, established women automatically overlook younger men. Another factor is the importance Chinese people place on finding a suitable financial match when choosing a spouse. New graduates don't have salaries on par with what more experienced women earn, leaving them off the candidate list.

It's natural for these women to look at men who are older than they are as they have wealth and social status that match the woman's. However, older men are often either already married or looking for a younger, more attractive woman to be their wife, without considering factors such as economic background.

With ages climbing up, the women sadly find their options dwindling.

At the same time, family members, relatives, colleagues, neighbors and even casual acquaintances express their concern and pity if you are defined as a shengnü. Being "left over" is considered shameful by some families, never mind a woman's educational or professional achievements. Many shengnü are therefore left pessimistic and lacking in confidence. For some, the pressure to find a suitable husband is immense. And unnoticeably, the criteria for a match is lowered.

This pressure may be the reason why these romantic scams have been in the headlines recently.

Unfortunately, the social stigma surrounding shengnü doesn't look likely to fade in the near future.

One thing that can be done is to publicize these court cases so that as many people as possible are aware that such swindlers exist. Even in matters of the heart, it's always important to keep your wits about you.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.