A surge in online dating

"Had we but world enough and time, this coyness, Lady, were no crime"

We are gorgeous, modest and kind; we have mild temperament and are easy-going. Educated at a prestigious university, we are well read and talented. Our heart is pure and does not play with love.”

This rather halting serenade ends with the line: “The Ruo River is a thousand miles long, but one only drinks one ladle worth of water from it.”

This was posted recently on a matchmaking website by eight female graduate students from Hunan University.

Their marriage proposal – the Ruo River metaphor suggests a mate for life – generated 16,000 hits in the first five hours. This quickly translated into 150 men emailing their full personal details in the hope of being considered “ladle” worthy.

Online dating may be old news in the Western world but it is a relatively new phenomenom in China.

Thanks to the country’s burgeoning internet population the idea has grown increasingly popular, with three out of the eight “ladle” girls now admitting to dating a man they met through the web, according to Modern Express.

This shift in dating values may well have contributed to the runaway success of a recent film, If You Are The One, a hugely popular romantic comedy about a man searching online for love (see WiC11).

China’s online dating industry was worth $95.6 million in 2008, and analysts expect the number to hit $176 million by the end of next year.

Already, more than a 100 million Chinese use online matchmaking services, double that of five years ago. Industry experts reckon the number will reach 185 million in 2010, says China Daily.

Gong Haiyan, the CEO of Jiayuan, China’s largest online dating website – which boasts 17 million members – believes that the financial crisis has given the industry a boost. “The economic slowdown has made a lot of people panic. They have realised careers and finances can be unreliable and so they have started to think about settling down and having a family,” says Gong.

Perhaps there is truth to that. Since last September, the three largest online dating services in the mainland have all recorded significant increases in membership. And interestingly, most of the new members looking for love are single professional women in big cities, whom Gong thinks previously put work before love. Jiayuan saw a 40% increase in women signing up, while Baihe and Hongniang, two other leading online matchmakers, report a 50% and 20% increase respectively.

Gong attributes the success of online dating in China to the more introverted Chinese culture. Traditionally, Chinese tend to be more discreet and reserved when it comes to expressing their feelings. Cyberspace, however, offers a venue for people to be more open (look no further than the large population of outspoken netizens in China) and to those who are otherwise shy about meeting strangers.

But in China, it is not only the introverted who rely on online dating; many affluent bachelors are relying on online matchmakers to find them soul mates too.

In January, Jiayuan held a matchmaking party in a five-star hotel in Guangzhou. Each of the 30 participants – all of them millionaires (and in some cases, billionaires) – paid Rmb20,888 ($3,050) to meet 40 highly eligible girls, who were selected from a highly competitive pool of 6,350 applicants, based on a series of compatibility survey questions and interviews.

Is there hope of true love for all concerned? Gong claims that over the years, she’s helped over 3 million people find spouses through her website.

Such is her success, Gong now says, that she is always receiving invitations to the weddings of her customers – far more than she could ever hope to attend.

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