Silicone partners: When Mathilda knocked on Léon's door in Professional, a 1994 thriller film, Léon's solitary life was forever changed. For 32-year-old Bob (pseudonym), Xiao Ying, a 145-centimeter silicone doll, is his Mathilda.
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She filled his empty heart and rejuvenated his life the moment she was delivered to his doorway.
Bob bought Xiao Ying two months after breaking up with his last girlfriend, and he treats "her" as if "she" were his "daughter."
"I have a hole in my heart that needs to be filled," he said while sitting in his apartment in Beijing's Haidian district.
On the day of his interview with the Global Times, he dressed Xiao Ying like a high school student. In addition to a red school uniform, the blonde doll wore a pair of glasses as she lolled on the couch.
"It's impossible to find such a beauty in the real world that can be as beautiful as her," he said.
Bob, a Beijing local and part-time game designer, is not alone in seeking the company of dolls instead of real people. A search of baidu.com reveals numerous forums where tens of thousands of doll aficionados gather and exchange their experiences.
Wu Xingliang, marketing director of the silicone doll company Exdoll, told the Global Times that "there are an increasing number of Chinese people buying silicone dolls in recent years."
The popularity of lifelike dolls is in part due to the influence of Japanese otaku culture and changing attitudes toward marriage and fertility among the younger generation, he added.
Easier than real women
Apart from Xiao Ying, Bob also has another doll he acquired from his friend named Xiao Yue. Xiao Yue is "a friend's child," according to Bob.
The 145-centimeter doll weighs over 10 kilograms. Carrying it consumes so much energy that Bob said playing with dolls is the same as working out in the gym.
Usually twice a month, he bathes the doll and sprinkles baby powder all over its body. As the dolls are unable to stand up for a long period of time, most of the time he positions the dolls on the window by his bed. "I talk to her all the time in my mind," he said.
According to Bob, he reconstructs events that happened to him and his girlfriend with Xiao Ying. "I kept thinking if the same things happen to me and my daughter, will I take a different approach?" he said.
Bob had a three-year relationship with his ex but the girl broke up with him and went back to her hometown last year.
After the breakup, Bob had a blind date with a Beijing girl, but the relationship soured after the woman refused to accept his "daughter."
Unlike a real person, Xiao Ying can never react negatively to Bob's words and can never argue with him. "Dealing with dolls is much easier than dealing with a real woman," he said.
Li Chen is well-known in the human-like doll circle as he can make changes to the dolls so that they move more like humans.
Li divorced his wife, who was 18 years younger than him, 12 years ago, because she was a gambling addict.
When the 58-year-old father later tried to form a new family, he found out that women of his age are "too scheming" and he didn't want his son to "suffer." So he gave up the idea.
In 2014, he bought his first doll. In Li's home in Guizhou Province, there is a room especially for his dolls. He has spent a small fortune on doll clothes. More expensive outfits can cost up to 3,000 yuan ($448), according to Li.
"I used to think raising dolls was cheaper than raising women. But now I think I was wrong," he told the Global Times.
"Unlike human beings who pick clothes according to their own natural conditions, the dolls are so beautiful and they can exhibit their beauty in every kind of uniform. So I can't help but keep buying different kinds of clothes for them," he said.
Playing with dolls gave Li a second life. He once planned to marry his young girlfriend who is in her 20s. But after she went to a big city to work, she was attracted to the city life and decided to halt their marriage plan.
"Compared with women, dolls are more reliable and they will never betray you," he said.
An alternative lifestyle
Wu Xingliang told the Global Times that most doll lovers are aged between 22 and 45 years old.
Now as many young people's ideas about parenthood change, they don't take the responsibility of carrying on the family line as seriously as previous generations. "I've many customers who purchase dolls to raise them as daughters. There are also people buying dolls as wives," he said.
Founded in 2009, Wu's company has already made millions of yuan from selling dolls. Their products are priced between 9,980 yuan to 23,800 yuan.
Players can choose Lolita-style dolls whose height is 145 centimeters and adult ones whose height is 168 centimeters and above. It takes three months to make a doll.
"We designed our dolls based on the preferences of Chinese men," he said. The dolls they sell all have delicate countenances: big eyes, white skin, small lips and slim bodies.
For those who can't afford top-of-the-line Exdoll products, a search on baidu.com returns many other companies which provide similar products at cheaper prices. And many of them explicitly advertise on their front page that the plastic toys are for "sexual fulfillment."
In an interview with thepaper.cn, a Beijing local named Zhang Fan (pseudonym) said that in the past, people's idea about sex was that it is "degrading pleasure, enhancing birth abilities," but now, he enjoys "satisfying sexual needs, downplaying fertility roles."
Zhang named his doll "Liu Ying" after his secret lover. He felt that as women's status has improved in society, the traditional model of gender roles is broken. As he gets older, he says he has found that love is attached to materialistic conditions: houses, money, children and education. He said these things are a burden to him.
According to Li, most doll are bought to meet "sexual needs." "Many doll enthusiasts I know are middle-aged and elderly people," he said.
"Many men can't find a proper date, it's understandable for them to purchase dolls for sexual fulfillment. This is better than seeking prostitutes," he said.
In China, the gender ratio is 105.02 men to every 100 women in 2015, according to the National Statistics Bureau. The figure suggests that more than 30 million men may be short of a wife.
On bbs.exdoll.com, a forum where doll players share their experiences, the discussions range from how to pick dolls, selecting their clothes to their sexual experiences with dolls.
A user named bestrick said on the forum that his doll's vagina is too small and he can only insert half of his penis into it. He urged the company to "enhance user experiences."
But Bob said he doesn't like to have sex with dolls. For him, dressing up the dolls and taking them out for street photography is enough to satisfy him.
"Life isn't all about sex. What matters is to have someone accompanying you," he said.
Calling for acceptance
While he is not afraid of showing off his dolls in public, Bob is wary of two kinds of people when he takes dolls out.
The first are his former schoolmates and the others are the friends of his parents.
He explained that he doesn't want people to talk behind his back. "I also don't want to bring troubles to my parents. I don't want them to be judged by their old colleagues," he said, adding that his hobby is so out of mainstream that many people raise their eyebrows at him when he takes the dolls outside.
According to Bob, most doll lovers were cheated when they first bought the product.
"Usually, they don't report this to the police to get their money back. They feel ashamed and didn't want to be judged," he said.
According to Li, many young people seek advice from him after "being pressed by their parents to give up their dolls."
"Some even offered to be my sons," he said.
Li's son is 18 years old now. Li told the Global Times that if his son can't find a proper companion in the future, he will buy him a doll as a girlfriend.
Wu holds an optimistic attitude toward the future. "With the rise of bachelorism and changing opinions among young people, dolls will gain acceptance eventually," he said.
Exdoll is now preparing to release male dolls this year to cater to the female customers' needs.
"There are female users leaving comments on my Weibo, saying that they want a male doll as 'husband' or 'brother.' They said they don't want to be at home alone" said Wu.
SOURCE: By Xie Wenting Source: Global Times