SHENYANG, Jan. 27 (Xinhua) -- Forget money and gifts -- the best thing a single Chinese person can take home to please his or her parents is a bride- or groom-to-be.
Under pressure to marry, some men have resorted to hiring a woman to please their parents -- at least temporarily -- during their homecoming for the Lunar New Year, which fell on Monday this year.
Online ads offering surrogate boyfriends and girlfriends appeared on Taobao.com, China's largest consumer e-commerce website, several weeks ahead of the traditional Chinese holiday.
Dozens of Taobao stores offered rental services, and prices varied according to the required intimacy, time and distance.
The average price for a handshake was 3 yuan (about 0.48 U.S. dollar), while hugs and kisses were going for 5 yuan and 10 yuan, respectively.
Most stores charged 8 yuan per hour for the hired date to accompany the customer to a family dinner, and 15 yuan per hour to join them on a party or a shopping tour.
The prices, however, were reserved for local service. If the fake date had to travel to another city, the price was several times higher. A store based in Guangzhou charged 1,500 yuan a day.
Though most of Taobao's rent-a-date services received several thousand clicks on average, very few had transaction records.
An online store based in Shanghai showed two transactions, and two others had received one order each.
Software engineer Hu Xiaofei said he spent 6,000 yuan, more than half of his year-end bonus, to rent a girlfriend for a week-long stay in his family home in the countryside of central Hunan province.
"My parents want me to marry early, but I can't find a girlfriend easily. So I might as well hire one to make them happy," Hu said.
Hu said a colleague had urged him to rent a date. "He rented one for three days last year. This year, he hired someone else for five days."
Hu feels secure that his parents won't find out that he has cheated them. For more than 11 months of the year, he works in Shenyang, the provincial capital of northeast China's Liaoning province, more than 2,000 km from his family home. His aging parents are unlikely to follow him to Shenyang.
The hired woman's presence made Hu's family happy. Hu carefully kept her at arm's length when they were alone, but feigned intimacy by holding her hand when other people were around.
Shenyang-based lawyer Liu Ancai, however, warned of risks in the rental service.
"The deal is a hiring agreement instead of a transaction of consumer goods," Liu said. "Such services are neither banned nor supported by law, but any conflict or complaint would be hard to settle."
Hou Xiaofeng, a researcher with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said such acts are dishonest and defy basic moral standards.
"These young people may think it's an act of filial piety to bring home a fake fiancee, but it's sheer cheating," said Hou. "It's also dangerous to take home a complete stranger -- you never know what might happen."