“Practice makes perfect!” 32-year-old Michael Yu emphasizes to his students outside a bar in Sanlitun, Beijing around 10 pm on a Saturday night. The four students, ranging in age from 28 to 35, all wear sneakers and have conspicuously moussed hair. This is their fourth class and each of them have to get at least three girls’ numbers and set up a date with at least one of them.
Yu is a “pick-up artist (PUA)”, a profession whose proponents claim to be masters of seduction, able to attract any women they want.
As a PUA with more than three years experience, Yu worried during his class that his students would be shy, afraid of rejection. Michael is not his real name. He likes to stay anonymous because his professional colleagues made a bit of a stink with a newspaper in southern China a while back, causing some pretty wide-ranging criticism of those in his line of work. “People say we shouldn’t manipulate women or materialize them. I don’t agree. Many men are frustrated because they don’t know how to get along with women.”
Chinese single men, around 180 million, greatly outnumber single women. Getting a partner can involve a lot of competition.
Of course, this kind of professional pickup artist wasn’t invented in China, coming to the country around 2008. Still, China learned pretty fast from those already in the field: Ross Jeffries, who first applied NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) to seduction; David DeAngelo, author of Double Your Dating who encouraged being “cocky and funny”; Neil Strauss, the former New York Times reporter who wrote The Game about “The Mystery Method”.
Local pick-up artists are a bit different from the Western world. According to Chengdu-based PUA, Xiaoxiaohu (nickname), for example, the first step of the “mystery method” is “peacocking”—using flashy clothes to attract a woman, but there’s debate about whether this works in China. “There is no fixed style. Some PUAs also encourage men to use peacocking,” he says.
Nevertheless, the PUA promotional line is usually the same: “You don’t have to be successful to be with a successful woman.” They take pride in reversing that stereotype. Yu tells his students—referred to as “AFC”, an important moniker in the PUA world meaning “average frustrated chump”—that neither wealth nor appearance play a critical role. “Getting along with them, making them feel comfortable and curious and setting ‘traps’ are important,” he says. In the last three lessons, Yu guided them in fashion, opening lines, and life stories. There’s such a wealth of acronyms and secret codes that one would be forgiven for thinking it’s some sort of clandestine organization or cult: IOI (indicator of interest), KINO (kinesthetics, touching), ASD (anti-slut defense), DHV (demonstration of higher value), and LMR (last-minute resistance).
The students have different goals. Some want to find a life partner, some want to become a professional PUA.
Before the students set off for the hunt, Yu checks, “Short jokes prepared?” Students nod. “Remember, do not tell everything on the first date. Be generous and be mysterious and don’t forget to leave traps.”
The “traps” are things left unanswered after a conversation. For example: “My friend is in trouble, she’s with the police now. It was nice talking to you.” This, Yu claims, makes the woman realize three things: first, that he is not a lonely predator; second, that he has female friends; and third, that he has an exciting back story.
Yu, 1.73-meters, wearing a white T-shirt, white sneakers, black frame glasses, and a grey hooded coat, was quite confident during his conversation with TWOC, even when he talked about his past failures. “They dumped me because I did not take control of the relationship in time,” Yu said. He used to work in a state-owned firm as an accountant but is now a full-time pick-up artist.
“I joined the PUA forums and started learning from different masters, imitating their conversations, and practicing in different venues—bars, bookshops, shopping malls,” he said.
One achievement he was particularly proud of was getting his ex back. Most of his previous students, according to him, also manage to find girlfriends quickly, but when being asked if they lasted, he replied, “That’s not important.”
So far, 55 students have taken his class in Sanlitun at 6,000 RMB a pop; the package includes both theory and real-life guidance. Like other PUA teachers, Yu summarizes his experiences and posts them on paoxue.com, an online PUA website with over 200,000 registered users, to attract more students.
There are various courses on offer. A fee of 3,000 RMB might cover a onemonth package or just a three-day boot camp. No certificate is needed and the only requirements are how many women you have nailed and your storytelling skills.
“Once the students start dating, I stand by my phone to offer real-time suggestions,” Yu says.
PUA, as one might imagine, is controversial. Julien Blanc, a US-based pick-up artist was banned from entering the UK and Singapore after video showed him grabbing Japanese women on the street in Tokyo. China has been no different.
As the number of pick-up artist services have increased across the Middle Kingdom, so too have the different branches, some of which seem to have gone a bit too far. One of them is called “rapid sex” or “sutui” in Chinese. Liu Nian, representative of this branch, first became known by promoting his experience on zhihu.com, an online Q&A platform similar to Quora. Now he makes over 300,000 RMB a year, Vista Weekly reported.
Liu charges 8,000 RMB for a fourday course, teaching his students how to control facial muscles because he argues that every sexy moment comes from muscle control. Liu also offers his services for taking high-end photos, which feature organized men sitting or standing in fancy offices or restaurants. The price? Around 5,000 RMB. But, the bedrock of Liu’s philosophy of “rapid sex” is persistence, ignoring protestations.
“Art of Seduction?” is a story from our newest issue, “Romance”. To read the whole piece, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.