She is an ordinary nurse in Beijing, yet known as China's most loveable Cupid. A part-time matchmaker for almost 25 years now, Liu Xiang, 42, has successfully brought together over 500 couples so far. "It's just my hobby," says Liu, who does not charge for her services.
Liu Xiang has inherited her expertise. "My mother was a famous matchmaker, so I learnt a lot from her when I was little. At that time, I would dream of the kind of man I would eventually marry," she smiles. While matchmaking does sound archaic, the busy work schedules of Chinese youth and their consequent limited social networking makes it a necessary tool today.
Interestingly, Chinese folklore narrates the tale of an old man, Yue Lao who, much like his European counterpart, Cupid, is in charge of worldly love. Lao carries with him a bag of red thread. One end of the thread is tied to a man and the other to a woman. No matter how far apart the two may be, they will eventually meet and marry.
Liu Xiang is somewhat like Yue Lao, albeit with loads of thick notebooks filled with details of all the single people she has met or been approached by. Addicted to her hobby since she was 17, when she successfully introduced a boy interested in her to her friend - the couple later got married - Liu chats with strangers (people she meets in hotel lobby's, gyms, and even in public toilets) and with the thousands who turn to her.
"If you don't know how to love people around you, you will never find your love. You have to give love to get love," comments Liu sagely. Wang Fang, 32, a close friend of Liu, believes that she has special talent. "She cares for friends from the bottom of her heart. She is passionate and is always happy, bringing energy to people around her. She is also a good communicator and observer," vouches Fang.
However, not everyone appreciates Liu's methods. "She spoils men," says Jiang Zhulang, a feminist and college professor in Beijing. "Men and women are equal now so why should women be so obedient to them?" she questions.
However, most people respect Liu's shrewd observation of human weaknesses and her practical approach to life. "Men don't know what kind of wife they want. They just want beautiful ones. In fact, an understanding wife with a good disposition is most desirable. For women, it's a responsible man," says the matchmaker. More single women than men seek Liu's help. "The single women are mostly high flyers with high expectations about their future husbands. Men in their 40s can marry a 20-year-old, but few women can marry younger men."
Liu adds: "The most common problem with single people is that they cannot assess themselves properly. They are seeking young princesses or corporate board chairmen. The thing is - where can we find enough princesses or chairmen? Even if there were enough, can they handle them? It's like choosing shoes: if you wear a size 36, why bother with size 40?"
Liu's major task is to fine-tune the expectations of those who lack the ability to assess themselves objectively. "I tune the arrogant, low and the inferior, high. Some people even need two or three years to find a nice match." Commenting on China's growing divorce rate, Liu says, "You should open your eyes wide before marriage and close your eyes firmly after."
Liu feels that when people encounter problems within their relationship, "They are psychologically ill but choose divorce as a cure - just like treating the feet to cure a headache."
Happily married herself, Liu - who identified her husband by her traditional matchmaking methods - believes the most important thing in the world is to love and be loved. "My parents grew up in an orphanage. The most important thing they taught me was to reward society."
Perhaps another reason why Liu works with the spirit of voluntarism, despite the high demand for her expertise, is, as she explains, "I heard that ancient matchmakers believed that three successful matches would ensure them a safe life. Each time a pair falls in love and marries, I pray for my daughter's health (born with a heart and an eye ailment). It's a superstitious belief that gives me support."
Liu's expertise and her quick wit have made her a star on various TV talk shows. She has also launched a website (www.99liuxiang.net) so that people don't walk into her workplace seeking help. Incidentally, within a month of its launch, the website received around 2,000 registrations. "It's beyond my capacity to help so many people. I just hope that someone else would, free of charge. I don't want to commercialize matchmaking as they are human beings, not machine parts."
Passionate about her work, Liu adds, "I hope that one day all people, no matter of what color they are - black, yellow or white, can come together as long as they are in love."