How Expats Navigate the Dating App World in China
In ‘The Swiping Game: How Expats Navigate the Dating App World in China,’ our cover story, we guide you through some of the highs and lows of using dating apps as an expat in China. The anecdotes are laughable and genuine.
Dating is an arduous task. The technology from this century has simply given us too many options. Meanwhile, we’re inundated with gossip magazines, romantic comedy flicks and social media influencers sending mixed messages on how dating should be done.
Let’s throw in the additional barrier of being a foreigner in a new environment here in China, and you might suddenly feel like you’re navigating a minefield blindfolded.
Below, we walk you through the world of dating apps used in China and hear the good, the bad and the ugly of dating app experiences.
China is home to more than a million expats. The seventh Chinese census, released in , reported that there are currently 1.4 million foreign nationals living on the Chinese mainland. A healthy portion of these expats is likely single and ready to mingle.
Additionally, many foreigners studying or working in China will date outside of their ‘expat bubble,’ meaning there are a lot of potential partners available. The seventh consensus also reported that more than 51% of the total population are male and nearly 49% are female, in theory giving female expats more options to choose from.
“With so many cultures, nationalities, languages and backgrounds mixing together, the dating and relationship scene takes on a whole new landscape…we feel it’s important to have a platform to talk about these issues”
Dating as an expat can be difficult. You have to navigate language barriers, cultural differences, family pressure, different expectations and cross-dating.
In Beijing, long-term expats Rachel Weiss and Nathan Williams set up a podcast and event platform called Date Night China as a way to offer advice and support to people who are navigating this new environment for the first time.
“With so many cultures, nationalities, languages and backgrounds mixing together, the dating and relationship scene takes on a whole new landscape…we feel it’s important to have a platform to talk about these issues,” the duo tells us.
We reached out to several dating app users to share their experiences and gain insight into how expats and locals navigate this intercultural landscape.
But first, let’s take a look at the history of the digitalization of dating. Dating sites in China ‘date’ back to 2005, while apps didn’t really take off until 2011, according to South China Morning Post.
In 2021, many English-language dating apps do not function without a VPN in China, including Tinder – despite its popularity and regular use in the country.
Chinese-made apps have also been known to lose approval from time to time. Tantan and Momo were notably removed from the Chinese internet back in 2019, despite their large userbases. (Both apps have since been reapproved on Chinese app stores.)
Chinese apps generally reign supreme among dating app users, which can lead to difficulties for users who are not fluent in Chinese and struggle to adapt to different platforms.
Statista recorded that as of , Momo, Tantan, iAround, Zhiya and Soul are the most commonly used apps in China, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect usage by expats.
Momo promotional video celebrating its 10 year anniversary. On average, one million users meet each other every day, according to Momo’s official Weibo account. Screengrab via ???? /Weibo
There have been countless stories of bad experiences, ranging from catfishing (pretending to be someone else online) to outright scams. These often include investment opportunities linked to Forex or an expectation of payment for a date that isn’t mentioned until after the wining and dining.