Editor’s note: Four decades of reform and opening up have not only made China the world’s second-largest economy, but also changed people’s way of life, adding new, hitherto unknown elements to their demands. A veteran China Daily reporter attempts to analyze the changing nature of dating behaviors and attitudes.
Young people in China, especially teenagers, today have little free time due to the pressure of work or study. As a result, an increasing number of young people are turning to the internet for dating or finding a life partner. Although detailed data on the number of young people going online for this purpose is not available, a survey of young men working in the information technology sector shows that around 80% of them are active on dating sites.
Not all young people may log on to specialized dating sites to seek partners, but online matchmaking has become big business in China. Baihe Jiayuan Network Group, the country’s most popular online matchmaking website, for example, claims that it has nearly 7 million active users in a given month and has served more 200 million users since its launch in 2004.
Some websites are free because their operators’ business strategy is to make money from high matchmaking rates. But the information provided on these sites is incomplete and far from reliable. Other dating sites charge registration fees ranging from a few hundred yuan to 100,000 yuan ($15,808), depending on the amount of resources and the quality of service provided.
But despite numerous complaints against some websites for fabricating information and deceiving clients – some sites have even been fined by supervisors for malpractice – operators of online matchmaking sites have never run out of customers. . There are about 240 million single adults under the age of 40 in China, many of whom have left their hometowns and moved to other cities and regions. The fact that they have no relatives or close friends in the new environment means that they have no choice but to go online to date.
In the past, marriage decisions were made by parents. When their children reached marriageable age, parents paid traditional matchmakers to find the right life partner for their children. Such marriages were performed with the consent of the parents of the boy and the girl, but only after the groom’s side “offered” a handsome dowry to the bride’s family.
In my grandparents’ time, the bride and groom may not even have met until they got married. This tradition was challenged after the fall of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). But it wasn’t until the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 that young people were encouraged to find their own life partner.
For decades, many young people have dated and then married their classmates, classmates or colleagues. Some met their life partner through friends – my wife and I were introduced by my high school classmate, who happened to be a college classmate of my future wife. Of course, these introductions were free, and all we did to express our gratitude was to send candies or sweets to friends after the wedding.
After the launch of reform and opening up, young people in large numbers began to flock to the cities for work, with some even settling there. An obvious result of this has been the growing demand for matchmakers. This in turn signaled the return of professional matchmaking as a business – the only difference being that in the past matchmakers were people the bride and groom sides knew in person and today’s matchmakers today are in fact virtual.
With an investment of a few hundred yuan to obtain a business license, one could open a matchmaking “business” and stick advertisements on streetlights to attract customers. Huge market demand and low start-up costs attracted many people to the business.
Most of these matchmaking companies have disappeared and only a few, smart enough to connect, have survived. The successful ones have turned matchmaking into a multi-billion yuan business, with some, like Baihe Jiayuan, becoming listed companies.
With ever-increasing market demand, it looks like the matchmaking industry is here to stay and thrive. But to ensure its healthy development, market and Internet administrators should strictly supervise the operation of matchmaking companies so that online and offline information is real, accurate and reliable, and people looking for a life partner have their wishes granted, instead of being deceived.
The author is the former deputy editor of China Daily.