When it comes to online dating in China, users are not exactly looking for a mate who likes Pĩna Coladas and getting lost in the rain. The goal of online dating is marriage, which is not surprising in a country where 98 percent of women end up married, one of the highest marriage rates for a country in the world. What most women look for in a man they intend to settle down with is their ownership of a house and a car. Online dating websites makes it easier for users to filter for exactly what they are looking for. The online dating website eliminates the archaic matchmaker and gives people the power to choose exactly what they want in a partner. It’s interesting to see how China has adapted the Western model of computer-mediated dating to suit the defining characteristics of Chinese romance culture.
In the U.S. and most other Western countries where online dating websites are popular, online dating is a form of social networking, and we all know that the purpose of social networking is to expand your network, the number of contacts you have. Therefore, online dating is meant to give users a wide range of potential partners, a number of candidates to try on for size and meet even more people through. But this is the exact opposite of what users of Chinese online dating websites seek to do. With a population as large as China’s, finding a partner requires shrinking the pool of possible candidates, not expanding it. There is a sense that users of online dating websites in the U.S. are not in any real hurry to find the right person and are willing to “shop around,” but in China online dating is meant to speed up the mad pursuit of finding a spouse.
Pressure is a word young people in China are very familiar with, including in their love lives. Being single becomes unacceptable when men and women reach their mid-twenties, and they are relentlessly hounded about marriage prospects by their parents and relatives. They are not strangers to matchmaking and being set up. This constant pressure placed on single men and women to get married is enough to drive anyone to the virtual ocean where there are plenty of fish to catch.
The fear of being a “leftover” man or woman certainly leaves no room for romance or desire. It even sounds like it leaves little time for two people to spend together offline. So what really makes these relationships different from the ones arranged by their parents? Freedom of choice is what many users would say. They are doing the matchmaking, not their parents, not an aunt, not a good friend of the family’s. They get to choose who they spend the rest of their lives with. So perhaps this will be a generation where men and women are not miserably married.
Online dating websites in the U.S. act as matchmakers since users don’t want to put in any effort beyond filling out their personal profiles. Websites such as eHarmony match members’ profiles based on factors of compatibility. But in China, websites like Jiayuan (China’s largest online dating service) are designed for men and women to make their own choices, to filter for exactly what they are looking for. This enables men and women to make their own destiny. Destiny has that romantic ring to it in the U.S., but today’s young generation of China wants to eliminate this word from their vocabulary. Arranged marriages were banned in the 1950s, but there are still stories about women in rural villages being forced to marry men they didn’t love and crying out of absolute misery. The strange thing is that this misery that these women expressed helped their parents save face. Perhaps the bride is supposed to be miserable about leaving home.
In many ways, online dating websites are a logical addition to modern Chinese culture. China is a country with a growing middle-class and a growing number of young people furthering their education at Chinese universities or abroad. Like online dating websites, a high school education in China is to attain one goal: achieve a good score on the Gaokao in order to attend a good university. These are what young people need to secure if they intend to come out on top of China’s ultra-competitive job market. And the competition for finding a spouse can be just as heated. Online dating websites are something like the Gaokao. A person’s performance on the Gaokao decides what school and what major he or she goes into: a person’s online profile decides his or her success in finding a spouse. It seems that both of these should level out the so-called playing field, but the people who are most successful are those who have money and quality educations. The students who perform extremely well on the Gaokao are the ones whose parents can afford extra classes and tutors and expensive schools. The single men and women more likely to find a spouse online are the ones with good jobs, good salaries, and good educations. So while they may have a choice in their selections, who they end up with, to a large extent, is predetermined.
Online dating is also greatly affected by the imbalance in the male and female population. It is no secret that there is a greater male than female population in China as a result of the one-child policy. Women, therefore, have an immense amount of power when it comes to choosing a mate. There is now a large population of men being pressured to get married, but not many Chinese women to choose from. This means that dating for men is highly competitive: it is likely that there will be more left-over men in China than women. But it also begs the question of whether men really have a choice. It seems men can’t afford to be picky, while women can be as picky as they choose. And they are: they have an extensive list of demands for the men they choose.
Single Chinese men have another reason to worry. A large number of expatriate men also use online dating websites to meet Chinese women. Not, necessarily, for the sake of marriage, but at least for friendship or a good time. Many Chinese women would prefer a Westerner for a husband, but the majority of Chinese men are only interested in finding young Chinese wives. Never mind that including Western expatriate women into their pool of potential candidates would be expanding their choices.
Yet some websites like Jiayuan advertise themselves as “serious dating websites,” meaning you have to be serious about finding a spouse in order to use it. Such websites seem to only be used by single Chinese men and women facing the oppressive pressure to get married. These websites help to ensure that blessed matrimony remains the end goal of online dating.