Dating apps are booming in China, but not just for love

THE NEW YORK TIMES – LIFE/STYLE – When Qu Tongzhou, a photography assistant in Shanghai, embarked on a long-awaited trip to western China in June, she found the cities she visited unpleasant. As a side effect of the country’s “zero covid” policy, residents were suspicious of travelers and some hotels turned away Qu, fearing she could bring the virus.

So Qu resorted Tantan and for To Jimtwo popular chinese dating apps similar to tinder. She was aware of the risks of meeting strangers, but the apps provided a source of new friends, including a biotech entrepreneur in the city of Lanzhou, a Tibetan doctor in the city of Xining and a civil servant in Karamay, a city in northwestern Xinjiang. . At each stop, her “matches” gave her accommodation and took her to bars and other places in the region.

“If I hadn’t used these apps, I wouldn’t have met many people,” said Qu, 28. “Nobody would have taken me for a walk around town.”

Over the past two years, China has clamped down on much of its domestic technology industry, banning for-profit online educational institutions, restricting video games and imposing multibillion-dollar antitrust fines on the largest online commerce platforms. Some of China’s once-famous tech titans, such as Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce company Alibaba, have retreated from the public eye.

But one corner of China’s tech industry has boomed: dating apps.

The number of dating apps in China with more than 1,000 downloads rose to 275 this year from 81 in 2017, according to data.ai, an analytics firm. App downloads have increased, as have in-app purchases.

Investors also pumped more than $5.3 billion into dating and social networking companies in the country last year, up from $300 million in 2019, according to the report. PitchBook. And China’s biggest tech companies like ByteDance and Tencent are testing, acquiring and investing in new apps that promise to bring strangers together.

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These apps are booming — and Beijing seems to be leaving them alone — for more than romantic reasons. They promise to encourage people to marry at a time when China’s marriage and birth rates are falling, but apps also help users fight lonelinessas covid shutdowns have wreaked havoc on social connections.

For many people, apps have become virtual havens—a 21st-century twist on what urbanists call the “third place,” a community between work and home—to explore hobbies, discuss popular topics, and make new friends.

Qu Tongzhou, 28, resident of Shanghai. She recently used dating apps to make friends while traveling in western China.

Take photos: Qilai Shen/The New York Times

“It’s very difficult to meet people offline,” said Raphael Zhao, 25, a recent graduate in Beijing. Zhao took over from Tantan in April after he was confined to his campus due to containment measures. covid. “Because these platforms are very inclusive, they end up giving you the hope of meeting someone you live with.”

Chinese authorities have cracked down on dating apps in the past. In 2019, Tantan and another dating app Momo suspended some app features after regulators accused them of ignoring the spread of pornographic content on their platforms.

But unlike online courses and cryptocurrency trading, areas that have been unequivocally rejected by Chinese regulators, dating and other dating services on social networks have been relatively unscathed, as the apps explicitly set their goals at helping Chinese society thrive.

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Zhang Lu, founder soulthe dating app behind Tencent, said that “loneliness is the main problem we want to solve.” bluishapplication gay dating the most popular, is presented as an application for public health and raising awareness of HIV. Its website highlights HIV prevention work, cooperation with local authorities and the founder’s meetings with high-ranking officials such as Premier Li Keqiang. (Blueed’s founder resigned last month, alluding to the challenges of running an LGBTQ app in China, but app downloads have remained steady.)

“Instead of simply breaking down, dating apps are seen as technologies that can be effectively taken over by the state,” said Yun Zhou, an assistant professor of sociology and Chinese studies at the University of Michigan.

When online dating arrived in China in the early 2000s, the power to create relationships – once disproportionately in the hands of village matchmakers, parents and factory bosses – increasingly fell to the individual. Many were eager for change, gravitating to resources WeChata popular messaging app that allowed you to chat with strangers.

The trend accelerated in the 2010s with the advent of dating apps like Momo and Tantanwhich he imitated tinder. Along with Soul, they have become the three most popular dating apps in China, amassing a total of over 150 million monthly active users.

Soul and Momo declined to comment. Tantan, owned by Momo, did not respond to a request for comment.

The applications themselves have changed. Tantan and Momo have long matched users based on their physical appearance, leading to accusations that the platforms foster a casual dating culture. Recently, these apps have started using people’s interests, hobbies and personalities as the basis for new social encounters.

Douyin, which belongs to ByteDance and is the Chinese version TikTokand Little Red Book, a similar app Instagram, have created “social discovery” features that use their knowledge of people’s preferences to match them. Soul has become particularly popular in recent years for its avatar profiles and practice of matching users based on personality tests. Last year, the app overtook Tantan and Momo as the most downloaded dating app in China’s iOS store.

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Many users of these dating apps seem less interested in romance than meeting friends. In an October survey by a Chinese research institute, 89% of respondents said they had used a dating app before, with the majority saying they primarily wanted to expand their social circles rather than find a partner.

Vladimir Peters, a Shanghai-based developer working on his own dating app, said many younger Chinese now want apps to provide a more complete experience that combines entertainment and exploring hobbies — not just dating.

“Chinese youth like ice-breaker tricks and other playful things that are starting points for communication,” he said. / TRANSLATION OF LÍVIA BUELONI GONÇALVES

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