"She didn't agree immediately. She's still hoping I can take care of it myself," Fang said. "But we have to face reality. In Shanghai it's difficult for one person to afford an apartment. When we face something as important as this, men and women have to be equal."
Fang will need about $75,000 to afford the 30% down payment on the home the couple want. That's a lofty goal, considering that the computer technician is between jobs and has no savings. He's counting on both sets of parents to chip in.
Wang Haijun, a real estate agent on Beijing's east side, said he can always tell when a desperate bachelor walks into his office.
"They're always the least rational buyers," Wang said. "They don't care how little money they have. They just want an apartment as soon as possible. They take on a mortgage with the longest terms and highest interest rates. But they have no choice. They have to get married. I feel sorry for them."
Zhang, the language tutor and interpreter, wanted to marry his girlfriend, a receptionist at a language school. The two shared a love for American TV — "Sex and the City" for her and "Lost" for him.
The closer they grew, the more she asked about their future and a home.
"I told her I loved her and would marry her if she didn't mind not having a house," Zhang said. "But she said no. I told her I wanted a house too, but I didn't know how. I'm not rich."
Zhang began checking real estate listings in his neighborhood a year and a half ago. He was stunned. An apartment of about 1,000 square feet cost $150,000. Zhang's parents, who run a modest bakery in northeast China, offered to help. But the $30,000 down payment was still well out of reach.
His girlfriend grew increasingly concerned. She wanted to get married while her grandparents were still healthy and could celebrate her wedding. Last December, she called off the relationship.
Zhang says he's finally over the breakup. His appetite has returned. He has even gone on a couple of dates.
He acknowledges he must begin saving money for an apartment, but he resents being judged by his inability to purchase property. He would rather have a woman love him for his charm than for the roof he puts over her head.
"People's values have changed," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a nice guy or you're fun or good natured or have a sense of humor. They don't care. All they care about is a house."
Nicole Liu and Tommy Yang in The Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.