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I wondered if the story was a metaphor—until I met her mother, Jiang Xiaoyuan.“There was one especially tall building, the laboratory,” Jiang said.But in China, even as rates of divorce have climbed, so much of the culture revolves around family and offspring that ninety-eight per cent of the female population eventually marries—one of the highest levels in the world.(China has neither civil unions nor laws against discrimination, and it remains a very hard place to be gay.)The proliferation of choice has been so radical that Gong has often been described in the local press as “China’s No.(“If anyone ever liked me, I have yet to hear about it.”) She spent her childhood at the foot of a mountain in the village of Waduangang, in Hunan, the home province of Chairman Mao. During the Cultural Revolution, they were paired because they had been branded as “well-off peasants,” one of the Five Black Categories.When Gong was sixteen, her test scores got her into the top local high school, a transformative moment for a farming family.A few days later, she was on a tractor that plunged into a ditch, and the accident crushed her right leg and battered her face.

Heaven, she wrote, “will never throw you a meat pie.”Growing up, Gong Haiyan never considered herself a catch.“We’re not like you foreigners, who make friends easily in a bar or go travelling and chat up a stranger,” she once told me. Our membership has a very clear goal: to get married.”Of all the upheavals in Chinese life in the past three decades, there is perhaps none more intimate than the opportunity to choose one’s mate.For years, village matchmakers and parents, factory bosses and Communist cadres efficiently paired off young people with minimum participation from the bride and groom.Your customers, she told them, will be virtually indistinguishable from yourselves: strivers, alone in the city, separated from love by “three towering mountains”—no money, no time, and no connections.I met Gong six years ago, after she received a master’s degree in journalism and entered the dating business.

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