China Valentine’s Day
Chinese bridal couples kiss (Reuters)

The character of Vivian Ward, played by Julia Roberts in the romantic 1990 movie Pretty Woman, has moved thousands of women around the world and now it has also inspired Chinese men out to make a fast yuan.

Rent-a-boyfriend is the latest must-have purchase for single Chinese women desperate to soothe relatives who are quick to judge their unmarried status. In China, single women in their late 20s are dubbed "leftovers" - even by state media - and reproached by parents.

Valentine's proximity this year to celebrations for the Lunar New Year - when the Chinese traditionally return home to their families - has made it particularly difficult for many of female singletons to avoid difficult questions and parental disappointment.

Online searches for "rental boyfriend" have gone up by 884 percent compared to last year, according to China's most popular shopping website, Taobao.

Entreprenuerial Chinese men have set about exploiting the embarrassing social pressure and offering their services as holiday companions - for a price.

Thousands of announcements featuring a range of services, with a basic package costing 400-800 yuan (£40-£80) per day, have been posted on Taobao - a popular Gumtree-style website in China.

Extras include kissing (50 yuan per kiss), watching a movie (10 yuan per hour) and shopping (15 yuan per hour).

However not all boyfriends-for-hire are motivated by hard cash.

Finding a partner is increasingly difficult for Chinese men, too, as more than three decades of the government's one-child policy have created an army of bachelors destined to remain so for life.

Chinese parents' cultural preference for boys has led to a relative female scarcity in the country.

Foetuses which ultrasound scans show to be female are often aborted and first-born girls fall victim of infanticide. It has been calculated that in China there are 120 male births for every 100 female births. As a consequence, up to 40 million men will not be able to find a partner by 2020.

Some have decided to try their luck as a rented boyfriend.

"It's an exciting thing to do and I might find someone who shares my interests and it would make both of us happy ," Li Le, an agricultural products salesman from Tianjin who has put himself up for hire, told the BBC.

Li has reportedly turned down more than 30 marriage offers because he has not found Ms Right. "The best result would be for me to find someone to marry through this," Li said.