BEIJING • Alone on Chinese Valentine's Day? Gift yourself a dried flower. Or better yet, indulge in a cake shaped like a "single dog". Eating by yourself? A restaurant will sit a teddy bear across from you.
As couples coo over each other during China's version of Valentine's Day today, several businesses will woo a population of singles that may be unlucky with love but have money to spend.
While Valentine's Day is on Feb 14 in other parts of the world, China celebrates its version during the Qixi Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
Nearly 200 million people are not married in the country of almost 1.4 billion, according to official figures.
Businesses have something else for them. One of the country's most popular hotpot restaurants, Haidilao, places a teddy bear across from customers who dine alone.
It can make customers "feel at home... not isolated, and treated with warmth", said Haidilao restaurant manager Xu Bin, adding that this service mainly targets younger customers.
For those with a sweet tooth, the Seven Colour Rainbow bakery makes a cake in the shape of a pooch with his tongue out. Dubbed "the single dog", the dessert is 20 per cent more expensive than the shop's more common cake, but it accounts for 15 per cent of sales. "People buy these cakes for their friends as a benign joke," said an employee.
At his flower shop, Mr An Shuai offers singles dried roses encased in glass. "People love to celebrate these festivals, and single people can also give flowers to themselves," said Mr An.
A range of businesses are targeting singles, including those in travel, dining, online video games, online video streaming, sports apparels and cosmetics, according to Mr Shaun Rein, founder of China Market Research Group and author of the book, The War For China's Wallet.
Travel agency Lvmama said the number of bookings for people without a companion rose almost twofold in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year, according to People's Daily.
In the first 11 months of last year, solo travellers accounted for 15 per cent of the millions of travellers monitored by Ctrip, China's largest online travel agency, said the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper.
Mr Zhou Kai, 29, feels greater freedom being single. "Without the restraint from a relationship or marriage, I can engage more time in personal interests and hobbies and spend more," he said.
The high-earning urban female population is a major economic player.
Online flower retailer Reflower said almost 80 per cent of weekly orders come from women, with more than half buying flowers to "comfort themselves".
China is concerned about the accelerating drop in its working-age population, a consequence of its falling fertility rate and one-child policy, which was relaxed to two in 2015. The Communist Youth League has started to organise blind dates for young people. In Tianjin city alone, the local league committee has arranged blind dates involving 340 people for the Qixi Festival.
"In urban areas especially, parents are saying to their girls 'don't settle'. Only marry if you want to marry, only have kids if you want to have kids," Mr Rein said, adding that it signals social progress.