At least a third of the attendees were parents, either chaperoning their children, acting as go-betweens for the more bashful, or brokering deals with other parents for arranged romances.

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Any unmarried woman older than 25 leaves town because of the shame.

And these days, at 27, I dread going home for the holidays because of the badgering from my parents and relatives." She had travelled 300 miles to attend the event, but still had a strict set of requirements.

"I used to be more unreasonable about what I expected, and I put my previous boyfriends under a lot of pressure to do better financially.

The "minimum requirement" for the women meanwhile was straight-forward: a man with his own house, and preferably also a car.

"I have had 20 to 30 mothers come up to me with their son's telephone number," said Liu Xiuling, a 23-year-old marketing consultant. I do believe in love, but I also believe you have to balance your feelings with some sense of what is practical," she said.

"I suppose I would rather meet someone through a friend, or at a party, but who knows? Xue Xiaoyue, meanwhile, said she was already considered an old maid in her home village at the age of 27.

"In my village in Anhui, all the girls marry at 20.

Lonely hearts advertisements pinned on the wall gave a taste of the proceedings.

"Reference: W004763, Name: Yao Qin, Height: 1.63m, Date of Birth: 07.1987," read one.

"Lives in Shanghai, has a university degree, annual income 20,000 to 50,000 yuan." Just over 10,000 tickets for the event were officially sold, but Shu Xin, one of the organisers, claimed that 20,000 people had visited yesterday and 18,500 on Saturday.

"The queues have been so long that some people threatened to lodge a complaint to the mayor of Shanghai," Shu Xin said.