China’s Fake Boyfriends

Under immense pressure to get married, Li Chenxi rents a fake boyfriend to meet her family and friends.

Having recently turned 27, Li Chenxi has reached the age at which unmarried women in China are labelled “sheng nu” or “leftover women”.

It’s a stigma that carries deep ramifications within her social life, workplace and especially among her family. But with a blossoming career in Beijing, Li Chenxi has no desire to get married.

As Chinese New Year looms she makes her annual journey home to face greater than ever expectations.

In search of a solution that staves off the marital pressures, Li Chenxi decides to commit the ultimate deception: She hires a handsome boyfriend in Beijing to take home to meet her family and friends.

What could possibly go wrong?

READ: My time as a fake boyfriend for China’s ‘leftover women’


By Daniel Holmes

I moved to China in 2013, straight after graduating, to cut my teeth on one of the country’s many state-run news organisations. Based in Beijing, I was surrounded by young white-collar workers. This was a generation raised under completely different circumstances than the ones their parents knew at a similar age.

This generation of Chinese ‘twenty-somethings’ spend their weekends at rock concerts, shopping with friends and even scouring dating apps similar to Tinder. For their parents, who grew up at a time when Mao Zedong had glorified the working classes, it must be difficult to understand these pleasures.

Almost two-thirds of my new colleagues were women between 24 and 34 years old – highly-educated, with disposable income and ambitious career goals – but with one thing holding them back: an overwhelming societal pressure to settle down and marry young.

In the office, I would hear of the pressure that my female colleagues would endure – of 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.

It was these conversations which formed the idea of the film, and the starting point to look at the cultural and historical reasons behind the pressure.

Long after I had left this job, I heard that some women were renting fake boyfriends to take home to meet their parents. I reached out to my friends to find out if this was a genuine phenomenon. Soon enough, a colleague had put me in touch with Li Chenxi, who became the protagonist of our film.

Having just turned 27 years old, she had reached a symbolic age for women across China. This is when women become known as ‘sheng nu’, ‘leftover woman’.

Li Chenxi’s parents are deeply concerned that if she doesn’t settle down soon, she’ll forever live a lonely life. With no husband to look after her financially and no child to care for her in old age, her future is far from safeguarded.

Chenxi was excited to take part in the filming – feeling that, in some way, it could be empowering to show that she can financially care for herself and achieve something in her career before making the choice to settle down.

With a promising career in landscape design, Li Chenxi represents China’s young generation for whom the sky is the limit, enjoying opportunities which her parents’ generation were never able to enjoy.

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.