Some wore denim shorts; others went for flowy skirts. Almost all had pleasing eyebrows and a warm shade of lipstick.
This was no casting call for models or actresses, but an exercise in finding wives for tycoons of the China Entrepreneur Club for Singles (CECS), which serves those with assets upwards of 100 million yuan, or S$21 million.
Say what you will, but many Chinese women hope to snare a rich husband and don't mind such "trials". In the last two years, at least 20 such events have been held, mainly by the CECS, to target the 64,500 Chinese in such an asset bracket.
When The Sunday Times dropped in on the club's "auditions" at a Beijing hotel last Sunday, young women were filling in forms asking them for their height, weight, bust and waist measurements.
Civil servant Han Zixing, 24, (1.63m and 45kg) left blank the space asking for her san wei - vital statistics. "I don't see why they have to ask for that," she said.
She was one of the 532 women who waited in line that day for tests on their looks, health, personality and relationship history. Oh, and how well they can help their men pack for a work trip.
No more than 25 get a chance to meet the 93 bachelors of the club, which has drawn flak for putting women through such cattle calls.
"Such selections put men and women on unequal footing and can be accused of discriminating against or even insulting women," wrote columnist Qian Suwei in the Zhengzhou Daily.
"Actually, it's a very high-class platform," said Mr Cheng
Yongsheng, who founded the club last year. "The women need to be of good su zhi," he told The Sunday Times, using a buzzword roughly meaning quality.
According to the CECS website, su zhi means, among other things, women who do not have body odour, tattoos, birth marks or a stutter and are taller than 1.65m. ("They need to think about the next generation," said Mr Cheng.)
They also cannot be from poor families, he said, with no apologies. "We'd need them to be men dang hu dui," he adds, meaning that the family backgrounds of couples should match.
Many candidates have parents who are officials or managers in state-owned enterprises and typically work as civil servants or at foreign and state enterprises, he said.
Looks matter too.
During the event, Mr Feng Wenyuan, one of the judges, scored the women on their looks, figure, mannerisms and dressing. "Their bust and waist sizes should be proportionate," he said, without elaborating.
At another table, counsellor Li Shimeng asked the women to draw Tarot cards and make up a story based on them.
"There are snakes and monsters... Things are not so good," said one, whose card showed a picture of snakes.
The mumbo jumbo supposedly helps Ms Li get an idea of the women's "inner world".
At the next station, the women packed items like shirts into a suitcase, though some could be heard making grouses.
"This should be done by servants... I don't think a multimillionaire will need to pack by himself," cried one.
The wife-wannabes were also asked about their past relationships and if they minded older men - the club's tycoons are 38 to 55 years old and half are divorcees.
The men pay at least 200,000 yuan a year in club membership fees.
The club has been slammed for promoting materialism, but the women interviewed claim they are not looking for rich husbands. "I'm not looking for a rich man's son. What's important is that the guy is capable," said Ms Han.
The club also sparked an uproar earlier for requiring the women to be "pure of body", but no mention of this was made this time round.
This casting roadshow had gone to Shanghai, Jinan and Nanning before Beijing. The club has helped 51 couples tie the knot, said media officer Li Zhuo, a trendy young man in a black cardigan.
There's no way of telling if the rich bachelors are as dishy as Mr Li, though. Unlike the women, who have their health and histories prodded and poked at, the men need only prove their wealth.
For never mind if men outnumber women in China. Just like it was in the old days, marriage in China is a rich man's world.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 7, 2013
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