In a classroom at Shanghai University, more than 100 students are listening in rapt attention. Their lecturer plays a video. In it, a young man wades through water to help his girlfriend cross a single log bridge.

“If he was your boyfriend, what would you think?” Li Chen asks.

He gestures at a female student: “You look like you have a boyfriend. Tell us, what do you think about this boy?”

A lecture as part of a course on relationships at Shanghai University
Image: Li Chen estimates a third of his students take naturally to the lessons

“The relationship would be over!” she says.

The next video shows a woman reluctantly preparing to bungee jump. Her boyfriend pushes her over the precipice.

“From the expression on the girl’s face, what do you see?” Mr Li asks. “She’s very excited. He did what a boyfriend should do.”

This, then, is today’s lesson: “Remember, excitement decides the quality of your love… Without excitement you cannot have love.”

More from China

A lecture in love – but one that is on the curriculum.

At least nine universities in China offer courses like this one on relationships, and they’re getting more popular.

Romance is tricky in China, for a number of reasons. But especially for men.

Last year there were nearly 32 more million men than women in the country. As a result, men looking for heterosexual relationships are up against the odds.

“In the past, families lived around big courtyards,” Li Chen says.

“It was easy to see other families’ stories when people were growing up. And their own parents could also give an example for them.

“But China develops so fast now. People moved to apartments. So children lose a chance to see other families’ lives.

“They have limited knowledge about love and marriage. So through teacher and university, we give a live demonstration to students, so they can know what a good marriage is.

“We give them the motivation and teach them skills: how to communicate with others, how to get along with the opposite sex, what you should pay attention to in love.”

General shot of members of the public in China
Image: Last year there were nearly 32 more million men than women in the country

Li estimates a third of his students take naturally to the lessons – which include field trips boating on the lake.

The rest of them “need more work. They need someone to push them. I’m the pusher. I must use all kinds of ways to excite their initiative”.

One single male student tells us after class that the lessons are being put into practise: “I find that after his class, I knew more girls around me and we can get on closely.

“I know more about their thinking, their emotions and their opinions.”

It might seem a bizarre class but the students seem to rate it. Most spend their teenage years in intense preparation for the gaokao exam, which decides your university and subsequent career, and doesn’t leave much time for socialising.

It’s a society-wide problem. As Professor Li notes: “Our highest leader, the general secretary of the party Xi Jinping, told the youth that to develop a mature mind and emotions by practising. So the emotion is a very important part.”

China’s massive gender imbalance matters.

It means more lonely, frustrated men. And it can lead to social instability, distortions in the work force and even increased human trafficking across borders.

For others, though, technology holds a potential solution.

Si Jiawei and Jing Jing first met on Tantan, a smartphone dating app similar to Tinder.

Jing Jing and Si Jiawei first met on Tantan, a dating app similar to Tinder
Image: Jing Jing and Si Jiawei first met on Tantan, a dating app similar to Tinder

They offer a direct assessment that is typically Chinese.

“My first impression of him was not good,” Jing Jing says. “He was too short for me.”

“My first impression of her, I thought she was fat,” Si Jiawei replies.

Lucky that love is blind then: they are now very happily married. Even after Si Jiawei admitted he photoshopped his profile picture.

“Young people are unlike previous generations,” Si Jiawei explains.

“It’s hard for them to find a girlfriend. Their circle is small. For your friends, you won’t have love with them. For your fellow students, they have already girlfriend or boyfriend when they graduate.

“So when you start to work, you meet your woman colleagues. But they are not many. So you know few girls.

“If you know few, how can you have love? Impossible. So this kind of app can help you meet the opposite sex more easily.

“Then after, how to develop, it’s another thing. But the beginning is important. The platform gives us chance to know more opposite sex.”