A man named Qi Yaomin (???) was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of two million yuan for running an illegal business.
That "illegal business" was an international matchmaking agency. Legal matchmaking businesses have proliferated, but although international marriages between a foreigner and a Chinese national are no longer unusual or dodgy, international matchmaking is banned by Chinese law.
Qi was well aware of this. His company, called Yi Guang Lian (???), was registered to provide consulting and translation services, but its profit came from selling the 20,000 -yuan memberships to a service which claimed to "give a family to those who don't have one."
The members were mostly 30 to 50-year-old female divorcees, who may find getting remarried to a Chinese man of a similar age next to impossible, for conventional wisdom holds that Chinese men are only interested in younger women. From some of them, the western lifestyle and western citizenship for their children are also very appealling.
A few years after it was founded in March 2003, Qi's matchmaking business flourished, and it opened branches in nearly every major city in mainland China.
In 2006, Qi's success even caught the interest of CCTV. One episode of the business program called "Fortune Story" told of how a migrant worker in Shenzhen met her Prince Charming from the US, with the help of matchmaker Qi.
Zhang Xiaoying, the young woman shown in the CCTV program, told of her previous unsuccessful marriage. When Qi showed her a film about his happily-married clients, Zhang half-heartedly decided to give it a try. Following two months of correspondence, an American man named "Bret" came to Shenzhen. Zhang said on the program that she was waiting for her visa to go to America to start a new life with her sweetheart.
Whether or not there was a deal between Yi Guang Lian and CCTV, the brand's authority among a large segment of its audience served as a promotional tool for Qi. Now he was known to more people, and they didn't question his credibility because he had been on CCTV.
Meanwhile, people who already paid began to feel something was wrong, and they raised questions.
One woman bought a membership and then found that her photo and ID info had been released onto the Internet, making her the subject of workplace gossip. Another woman complained that the company told her to pay an extra 20,000 yuan for her date to come from Australia to visit her. A woman who did get a visit found the man sleeping with another woman at the hotel the next morning. Some women claimed that they received identical letters that were supposedly from different foreign boyfriends.
Some women chose to keep silent, afraid of having other people know. The ones who asked for their money back were shown the non-refund policy written into the contract. The company even warned them not to tell the police; if they did, it threatened that they would "be blacklisted and never allowed to go abroad."
Qi was arrested on March 12. An investigation revealed that he had made a total of 15.11 million yuan from matchmaking. The court in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, decided that he was not guilty of fraud, because by posting the women's information on overseas personals websites, Qi fufilled his matchmaking responsibilities. His ten year sentence was for running an illegal business for over five years.
However, today's New Express seemed to disagree. It reported the story under the headline "International matchmaker tricked over a thousand single women."