The informally-organised markets usually take place on weekends in the parks of major cities. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)
The explosion of online dating apps is failing to dent the popularity of traditional “marriage markets” in China, with a distinct generation gap opening up on whether the digital world can be trusted for matchmaking.
- Parents help their single children look for a partner often without their knowledge
- Fake accounts and scammers are among the downsides of online dating
- Flirting with strangers is viewed as bad behaviour in China, says Tantan CEO
The informally organised markets usually take place on weekends in the parks of major cities, with information notices for singles detailing their age, height, job and personality traits.
“If parents don’t help to make introductions in this way, their son or daughter won’t have opportunities and information”, said a middle-aged man only giving his name as Wang, who was spending a Saturday morning at a market in the southern city of Shenzhen.
“Children born in the early 1980s are now in their late 30s. The parents are worried”, he said, as he waited to speak to people browsing a notice for his 35-year-old daughter.
Like Mr Wang, most people at the market were middle-aged or elderly parents posting notices on behalf of their single children, often without their knowledge.
“Cars are cheap, so having one is not important”, said a woman trying to find a match for her 41-year-old daughter.
“It’s having a house that counts”, she said, declining to give her name.
A notice details an individual’s age, height, job and personality traits for potential love interests. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)
Weekend marriage markets can be found all over China, but Shenzhen has the distinction of being China’s largest migrant city — with much of the 20 million population moving to the special economic zone in recent decades.
It’s a magnet for young workers across China’s southern provinces, in a country where more than a quarter of the labour force moves for a job.
That focus on work opportunities and career means the marriage age is higher in Shenzhen than in most other large cities in China (30.8 years old).
“Chinese people tend to be in a different city to their home city, either for studies or for work, so they’re extra lonely — they don’t really have friends or family or people who can introduce them to others”, said Wang Yu, the founder and CEO of Tantan, one of China’s largest dating apps.
Flirting with strangers ‘viewed as bad behaviour’: Wang
Many people at the market are middle-aged or elderly parents posting notices on behalf of their children. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)
Mr Wang believes China lacks a “flirting culture”, making dating apps like his particularly suitable for the Chinese market.
“The act of flirting is not really accepted — if you approach someone you don’t know and you start to flirt, it’s viewed as bad behaviour, you’re seen as a scoundrel”, he said.
Mr Wang attributes China’s more reserved dating culture to a lack of house parties and bar hopping among young people compared to the West.
But the online world of dating has its downsides.
While there are around 100 million user accounts for Tantan, the company has had to close another 50 million that were fake or used by scammers.
Among the scams common in China’s online world are women who insist on a digital cash payment before they agree to meet, and those who take their dates to specific restaurants, only to order, flee and leave the man facing a highly inflated bill.
It’s these stories that help convince advocates of marriage markets that the online world is too risky a place to find true love.
But one young woman browsing the notices at Shenzhen seemed to sum up the generational gap.
“I don’t think young people like this method of meeting people,” she said.
“They much prefer online apps — it’s easier to chat on them.”
People look at matchmaking notices at a park in Shenzhen, southern China. (ABC News: Brant Cumming)