The Love Gurus
A group of self-styled Chinese “pickup artists” are teaching their countrymen the finer points of attracting women
In 2008, Xiao Ran was a quiet, introverted 25-year-old. Throughout his time at high school and university, he only once managed to get himself a girlfriend, and the liaison didn’t last.
Four years later, Xiao is one of China’s top pickup artists (PUAs), and a well known coach in the art of the lothario. Though reluctant to reveal the exact number of girls he had “TD’ed” (an abbreviation for tuidao in Chinese, literally “to push down,” a Chinese PUA slang term for “to sleep with”), Xiao is proud to have had four girlfriends in the past four years. However, he is keen to point out that he’s no player – he limits himself to one relationship at a time. He told our reporter that his first TD experience took one month of hard work, from pickup to pillowtalk.
Like most people in China, a few years ago, Xiao had never heard of a PUA. But in the meantime, competition for the hearts of the nation’s women has been heating up. “Most guys are AFCs – average frustrated chumps,” said Xiao. In fact, China probably has the world’s largest AFC population – according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, there were 34 million more males than females born between 1980 and 2000.
More importantly, sex is still something of a taboo topic in Chinese society. Picking up women in bars is generally seen as a morally dubious act, and certainly not something that most people would be willing to talk about openly.
Yet, with the recent influence of PUA culture from the West, a group of young Chinese pioneers quickly caught onto the trend, and devoted much of their spare time to adapting its theories for use in their homeland. Today, there are an estimated one million PUA practitioners in China, a figure that is expected to keep growing.
Building a Platform
In PUA circles, Pan Sheng is better known by his online identity “Cold Love.” One of the earliest advocates of PUA in China, Pan has been researching the topic for five years, four of which he spent developing a pickup philosophy entirely of his own, which he calls the Cold Love Method. “Love is passionate. ‘Cold’ is a reminder to myself to be calm and sensible,” explained Pan, a freelance relationship consultant and founder of paoxue.com, one of the earliest and most popular PUA forums in China.
“Basically, there are two schools of PUAs in China – the ‘technique school’ and the ‘natural school,’” Pan told NewsChina. “I’m in the natural school.”
Indeed, 29-year-old Pan has the air of a natural. Smart, tall and well-built, he has been popular with females since his school days. Yet, unlike some popular young men, Pan took an early interest in striking up conversations with female strangers.
In 2007, Pan found an online Taiwanese translation of The Game, the world’s first PUA bestseller, by American writer Neil Strauss. While much of the book’s content seemed like second nature to Pan, it was also a doorway to an exciting new culture. He was thrilled by its methods.
Pan began to practice the skills described in the book, and noticed the growing number of people discussing PUA skills and sharing their experiences on the Internet. Pan realized there was a need for a Chinese platform for those with similar interests.
In 2008, he began to build a dedicated website for Chinese PUAs, and registered the domain name Paoxue, meaning “pickup studies,” with a group of collaborators. Today, Paoxue is an online forum divided into various sections, including “Pickup Diaries,” “Pickup Books,” “Field Reports” and “Long-term Relationships,” aiming to provide users with a step-by-step guide to becoming a PUA.
After just one year, paoxue.com had amassed tens of thousands of users, more and more of whom claim to be active in the real-life practice of the “art.” Yet at the same time, posts containing advertisements and pornography were also becoming increasingly common on the site. The team decided to tighten up registration rules, allowing only those who were invited by current users to register. Despite this, membership continued to grow. Today, Paoxue has more than 300,000 registered users.
While PUA practitioners joined in droves, Pan began to notice problems. One was that some foreign pickup methods were not well adapted for use on Chinese women, due to differences in language and social mores. Another was that there was no systematic method for Chinese practitioners to develop from beginners into advanced PUAs. In his opinion, most works produced by PUA experts from the technique school are easy for beginners, but often lead to rigid, mechanical performances. “Some of the technique practitioners became nerds,” Pan said. Yet on the other hand, the writings of the natural school were too vague and theoretical.
Pan wanted to combine the two schools and customize a system for Chinese PUAs. The result was The Cold Love Method, a book and multimedia package released in 2011, essentially consisting of three parts: the “core,” the “system” and the “plug-ins.” The core is mainly about his personal pickup philosophy, reflecting many of the ideas of the natural school. The system teaches the most easily applicable pickup methods, and plug-ins are specific tactics for special situations, environments and groups of people. In his continued research into PUA, Pan is constantly adjusting and supplementing his theories.
Room to Grow
Obviously, not everyone is lucky enough to be a natural like Pan Sheng. Xiao Ran, now a close collaborator of Pan’s and webmaster of paoxue.com, is a case in point. A science major in college, Xiao was a simple, straightlaced young man. “I was too rational,” said Xiao, “which often led to my ignorance of women’s emotional changes.”
Xiao began to practice pickup in the summer of 2008. Working with other PUAs, Xiao felt a change in his personality. He learned to approach women, to communicate with them properly, and to develop relationships with them. Soon, he left behind his life as a bachelor, and began to find long-term girlfriends.
But Xiao didn’t really come out of his shell until late 2010, when his company sent him to work in the southwest city of Chongqing, a place with no established PUA community. “I had to go into battle alone,” said Xiao. His training soon came in handy. Two weeks after he arrived, he found himself in a stable relationship, which lasted for some time even after he returned to Beijing in the summer of 2011.
The experience gave Xiao a renewed sense of confidence. He shared his story with Pan Sheng, who by then had founded PUACN, a professional organization to support the development of PUA websites in China. PUACN also promotes a wide range of offline activities, including regular training courses and an annual industry summit inaugurated in 2010. Pan was moved by Xiao’s story, and suggested that he share his experience with more people.
Xiao was good at telling stories, and as a graduate from a teacher training college, he had always dreamed of becoming an educator. Having taken over much of the management of paoxue.com, Xiao also began a career as a pickup coach. Since September 2011, he has been giving online lectures once every two weeks, and has held a series of offline lectures.
The market for PUA training is growing quickly. “In 2010, the scale of the PUA industry was very small. But in 2011, it saw a growth spurt,” Xiao told NewsChina. Though lacking concrete figures, he said that training courses are now being held nationwide. “The cost of one course can range from hundreds of yuan (tens of US dollars) per day to 20,000 yuan (US$3,180) for a two-week course,” said Xiao. Both he and Pan Sheng believe that there is still a lot of room for the industry to grow.
Despite the boom, PUA culture remains far from the mainstream. In Pan Sheng’s opinion, “social misunderstanding” is the most prominent obstacle to its increasing popularity. “Many people tend to instinctively demonize PUA,” said Pan. “We have encountered numerous difficulties caused by a lack of understanding in recent years,” he continued. On the online forums, posters often suggest certain activities keep a low profile to avoid attracting too much publicity.
These taboos have also put pressure on individual practitioners.
32-year-old Gavin is a graduate from a top university in Beijing, but despite holding down a lucrative job as a payroll manager in a large-scale State-owned enterprise, he had only ever had one girlfriend before he began to practice PUA in 2009. While he quickly fell in love with the lifestyle, he still has to conceal his activities from most of his family and friends.
While Gavin soon began to land girlfriends and rack up a number of TDs, he began to question what exactly it was he was pursuing. “In 2011, I started to study Pan Sheng’s Cold Love Method,” he said. Pan’s methods are not as technical as those of others, and emphasize that establishing a balanced lifestyle would naturally increase a practitioner’s sex appeal. The Cold Love Method focuses on stable long-term relationships, rather than fleeting encounters.
Yet Gavin remains confused about long-term relationships. “I’m still not sure whether or not I’m suitable for marriage,” he said.
“I want to get married,” said Xiao Ran. “The important thing is to find your match.” Xiao has also devoted much of his time to researching into marriage relations. “I’ve seen too many of my friends getting divorced soon after they get married. In most cases, they get married for the sake of it.” Xiao hopes that more people can think more clearly about what marriage really means.
“In truth, love is the process of learning to give,” said Pan Sheng. “What we’re really doing is trying to find solutions to the romantic problems Chinese people face.”
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Badeling Pass | Beijing
Sep 2011 | Submitted by Brian Snelson
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