Women in wedding gowns participate in a brides' race event for the Qixi Festival in Guangzhou, August 12, 2013.
Courtesy Reuters

China’s largest online marketplace, Taobao, offers everything from inflatable donkeys to live mice to breast implants. And now fake boyfriends are available for purchase, too. 

Men offer their companionship for as little as 1,000 yuan ($160) to as much as 10,000 yuan ($1,599) a day—and even charge extra for romantic activities such as handholding, going to the cinema together, cuddles, or joint Internet surfing (yes, even that).

But the “rent-a-boyfriends” aren’t really for lonely hearts. More commonly, women, usually in their late twenties and up, hire them to put on an act for their parents—a novel way for them to stave off marriage pressure.

This week marks the Chinese New Year—when that pressure reaches a boiling point. As millions of rural-to-urban migrants return home to celebrate China’s most important holiday, legions of unmarried women will be lectured by extended family about their singlehood. Enter the burgeoning rent-a-boyfriend industry.

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  • CLARISSA SEBAG-MONTEFIORE is a British journalist who lived in China from 2009 to 2014, during which time she worked as an editor for Time Out Beijing and Time Out Shanghai
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