Author: Pan Wang, UNSW
Since the mid-2000s, Chinese street parks have become new tourist attractions and popular places for weddings. Organized by volunteer parents who are trying to find a partner for their children, these âmarriage meeting spotsâ or Xiangqinjiao can be seen in cities across China.
Many of these parents grew up in the Maoist era (1949-1976) when they barely experienced romance or dating due to the political nature of the period. Their children, on the other hand, were born mainly in the opening period of the 80s and 90s. They face the effects of the one-child policy (1980-2015) – coupled with the entrenched preference for sons and access to ultrasound technology and selective abortion – which has skewed the sex ratio in China by producing millions more men of marriageable age.
This imbalance has been exacerbated by the fact that more and more women choose to pursue higher education or advance in their careers, thus delaying their marriage plans. The rising cost of living and unaffordable housing in recent years have further discouraged people from looking for a partner or getting married.
As parents desperately seek partners for their children, the media have ventured into the dating and marriage market. Over the past 20 years, dating shows such as Red rose date and If you are the only one have become extremely popular, winning the hearts of tens of millions of people. They have made watching other dating on TV and chatting about it a part of everyday life, making the audience reflect on love, dating and marriage in China.
From the mid-2000s, private agencies, dating sites, and dating apps mushroomed. Private dating camps and events target singles, teach them how to date the opposite sex and attract the opposite sex, and create dating opportunities through social gatherings like cooking classes, hikes and afternoon tea. ‘afternoon.
Popular Chinese dating sites and apps like Zhen’ai, MoMo, and TanTan have hundreds of millions of registered users. Digital gay dating networks have also become popular to meet the needs of the growing LGBTQI + community in China. While many users have found love through these digital dating networks, others remain content with the platonic style romance in the virtual world.
China’s economic reform has also boosted opportunities for international romance. Beginning in the 1980s, Sino-foreign romance was no longer seen as “bourgeois” as it was during the Cultural Revolution, with an increasing number of Chinese women entering into Sino-foreign marriages.
Foreign romances have sparked controversy amid growing political sensitivity to the West. Critics equated the “upward” mobility of Chinese women to marriage with “western fever” and “western worship” and their foreign partners have been dubbed “green cards” and “plane tickets.” But despite the controversy, the Sino-foreign romance continued to grow. About 80,000 couples registered a Sino-foreign marriage in 2001, up from 8,460 couples in 1979. At the dawn of the new millennium, China’s record economic performance and growing international status have reversed the migratory trends of Sino-couples. foreigners, many of them now choosing to reside. in China.
Since the early 2010s, Chinese singles, mostly in their 20s and 30s, have started running their own services on dating rental platforms. Common services include meeting friends, having dinner, watching movies, playing games, traveling or having a personal conversation. Prices, sometimes negotiable, range from free to thousands of dollars.
Through these trading platforms, dating has become a privatized, contractual and tailor-made service for Internet users. Love and dating are initiated through financial transactions, and the practice of dating provides opportunities for love, friendship and other close relationships. Such trading intimacy can be maintained as a lasting economic relationship or converted into friendship, genuine romance, or other types of relationships.
On the positive side, dating hire has provided a solution to the growing loneliness in China, especially for single men who are unable to find a date due to their disadvantaged status in the marriage market. But it raises concerns about authenticity, information security, and personal safety, such as scams, deception, prostitution, and fake marriages.
While dating hire has attracted a growing number of singles to business relationships, it has discouraged people looking for real dates or long-term relationships. This fits the paradoxical logic of dating agencies – while helping singles find dates, agencies need to support their growth by retaining and attracting more singles. Dating rentals will likely increase the number of singles and attract more people working as âdating professionalsâ. Dating has become an object of consumption and a business that individuals and companies can capitalize on.
AI technology has provided another platform for lonely hearts to find love. In recent years, an increasing number of Chinese have started dating virtual robots. Xiaoice, a chatbot developed by Microsoft, has become a loyal rendezvous for millions of people in China, especially men from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Love and Producer Dating Simulation Game (Lian yu zhizuoren) has also become a sensation for millions of young women since its launch in 2017. The mobile game has been downloaded over 7 million times, with over 4 million daily active users.
While a number of people come out for entertainment or digital experimentation, the growing popularity of dating and dating simulation with AI also reflects the growing level of loneliness in China and the harsh reality of those who are. unable to find a real life partner. As dating is no longer exclusively one-to-one, this will likely strengthen China’s already weak dating-marriage bond. And since AI couples cannot meet the goal of perpetuating the family lineage, it is unlikely to contribute to the Chinese government’s goal of increasing birth rates.
While many Chinese parents support the conventional notion that marriage is the end goal of dating and desperately seek out a potential son-in-law or daughter-in-law in the wedding corners of street parks, their children may have more. projects. Maybe they’re waiting for an arranged date, they’re on a date rental agreement, they’re falling for a digital boyfriend or girlfriend, or they’re planning to “go out together forever” without entering into a marriage at all.
Pan Wang is Senior Lecturer in Chinese and Asian Studies at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
A version of this article appears in the most recent edition of East Asia Quarterly Forum, ‘The Korean Way’, Vol 13, No 4.