Since coming back to China over a year ago, more and more of my peers have started talking about dating apps. A few years before when I left for college in the US, the hype wasn’t that obvious. Perhaps I only had a vague idea then of how things worked in Chinese schools, but for all I knew, the need to find suitable partners wasn’t frequently put on the table compared to my experience at an American institution where Tinder stories were often discussed among friends, and where events with fancy names like “Datamatch” and “Marriage Pact” are prevalent.
During my time at school, I was a frequent participant in such events. Of course, I wasn’t expecting the matches that came out from them to be anything more than random pairings (despite the alleged compatibilities), but they did help me meet new people outside of the group I usually interacted with – the bit of randomness that we all needed in our seemingly unchanging routines of everyday life. I always wondered if I would find the same thing back home.
My attempt originated out of boredom and curiosity, but, after familiarizing myself with the available platforms and talking to people about them, the experience ended in surprise. The popularity of such platforms among younger generations in recent years has gone beyond the level I had expected.
Since 2019, internet giants like Tencent and Bytedance have all put out new products to compete in the market, with Tencent introducing more than eight new apps in two years. What’s so appealing about them?
Throughout the years, China has witnessed a growing single population: from 2013 to 2018, the number has risen from 170 million to 240 million, and is now the largest in the world. Many firms have understandably vied for a chance at this huge market.
The popularity of traditional matchmaking services tells us that young people in China might be more open to finding partners through third-party involvement more than anywhere else. Dating TV show Fei Cheng Wu Rao (If You Are the One), in which each episode features one guy who is judged by 24 female guests, has an audience rating of 36 million and has aired over 600 episodes since 2010. Matchmaking sites Jiayuan and Baihe, where people poste their profiles to be matched with those deemed most suitable by the platform, already hosted over 300 million users combined by 2017.
So when school came to a halt last May due to the pandemic, I decided to put myself on several dating apps in China
This might be attributed in part to the stigma in Chinese conventions forbidding young people to date before college. After entering college they are thrown all of a sudden into a dilemma of being barely good at dating but needing to find a fitting partner soon for marriage, for which they face pressure most often from parents and other older family members. In this case, it seems most natural that some help is required.
According to an industry report, the total number of users in the stranger-meeting/dating app category in China exceeded 600 million by 2020, with about half of those born after 1995
But traditional matchmaking websites, having enjoyed their moment in the sun, have started to lose favor. In an interview with Sina, a user in his late twenties voiced his distaste for these platforms. “They are used and look like products of the last century,” he complained. “I got countless calls the first day of signing up, urging me to pay for updated service. The pressure is too overwhelming.” Other users have also expressed disappointment that such services are way too business-oriented that the sincerity is lost.