China's computer Cupid finds dates or mates
Miss Fu Li doesn't know Mr. Xue Da yet, but she does know what she wants. The 37-year-old Peking secretary is looking for someone tall, good looking, well brought up, and earning more than 49 yuan ($18) a month.
According to Mr. Xue's computer printout, he is a divorced computer-software researcher, 37, making 63 yuan a month and looking for someone just like Miss Fu - an attractive, college-educated woman around 30.
On a cold winter morning in Peking's Worker's Park, a Chinese computer matches No. 401 with No. 1837, Miss Fu Li with Mr. Xue Da.
Along with 2,500 other requests, Miss Fu's and Mr. Xue's personal preferences are stored in Peking's official computer-dating service. For 70 cents a member can be given any number of prospective spouses for six months.
But according to Ms. Zhao Yue Qing, one of the center's administrators, most of the first-time matches have been successful. With the help of the municipal government, which donated the $9,000 computer, the center was established in October as part of a drive by the Chinese Communist Party to find partners for those over 30 and still single - the ''unmarried youth,'' as they are politely referred to.
Earlier this year, the party's General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, sent out an urgent edict on the subject, formally reversing China's doctrine of the past 30 years that good revolutionaries should put work before play.
Since then, trade unions, women's federations, and other official organizations throughout the country have swung into action holding dances, acting as go-betweens - and finally last month enlisting the services of computers in an effort to pair off China's loose ends.
These are children of the Cultural Revolution, the 10 years of social turmoil beginning in 1966 that racked Communist China. Most were sent to the countryside as teen-agers to ''learn from the proletariat.'' Many have only just managed to get back into the cities. Others returned earlier but, in their efforts to catch up with a decade of lost schooling, paid little attention to finding a mate.
The drive to find partners for these people is a result of the Chinese discomfort with loners. Single laymen were never really part of Imperial Chinese society and they still don't fit in well in the People's Republic.
But for several decades the matchmakers of rural villages and city busybodies who had traditionally brought together young people ''suitable'' for each other have been labeled feudalist and discouraged from their task.
Now the dimensions of the problem have forced the Communist Party to adopt the role itself. No one can give a clear figure of how many of China's billion people are still looking for partners, but in Tianjin, Peking's neighboring industrial city, 65,000 are have registered.
''The problem is common everywhere in China,'' says Zhao, who is working at the computer center while it is being set up. ''It is the result of leftist ideology. Some people thought the work of the go-between unimportant. For too long attention has only been given to mass production, rather than to life itself.''
As for Miss Fu and Mr. Xue, there should be pink envelopes with photos and the statistics of 401 and 1837 - no names yet - arriving in their mailboxes soon.
Says Ms. Zhao with a grin: ''If they like the look of them, we will make sure that they meet.''