For a brief period in May it looked like China’s professional ‘mistresses hunters’ were going to be in the money. That’s because Seeking Arrangement, the American Sugar Daddy app, was climbing the local download charts.
By May 21 some 200,000 Chinese customers had installed it. Then it got some unwelcome publicity and a backlash swiftly followed.
The controversy was sparked by a media sting. Screen grabs from a journalist pretending to be a rich man looking for some young female companionship, showed women asking for Rmb10,000 ($1,564) a night to be with him or for monthly stipends of Rmb30,000 to be his companion. “I am in Beijing. I look good. I am looking for a long term arrangement. For Rmb30,000 we could meet every week,” wrote one woman.
But by May 25 the coupling was called off. The app, called Tailored Sweetness in Chinese, was removed from app stores, and Seeking Arrangement’s WeChat account was closed.
The official reason was that the company’s Chinese subsidiary was found to be in violation of registration laws – specifically, there was no office at its listed address. Yet the real reason is more likely to do with the government’s wider crackdown on “spiritual pollution”, pornography and selling sex. In a widely reprinted commentary the People’s Daily said the app was “immoral” and caused “harm to society”.
Founded by Singaporean-American Brandon Wade, Seeking Arrangement claims to have 10 million members around the world. According to its website, one fifth of the users are Sugar Daddies – or occasionally, Sugar Mommies – and the rest are young, often college-educated, men and women who are supposedly “looking for the finer things in life”.
Seeking Arrangement toned down some of the language on its app before launching it in China. Rather than referring to older men as Sugar Daddies it rebranded them as “Successful Individuals”, and the younger “Sugar Babies” were renamed “charming sweethearts”.
A spokesperson for the subsidiary told Chengdu Red Star News that the mainland Chinese version of the app was different from the international one.
“In China, we strive to build Seeking Arrangement as a high-end marriage and love platform,” he claimed. The Chinese version of the website explains that ‘Successful Individuals’ often struggle to find love because they aren’t good looking, and that girls often fail to find men of their own age who they can rely on.
Users of the app in China were asked questions about their body type and education. Sugar Daddies or Successful Individuals were also required to have net assets of over Rmb600,000 or annual incomes above Rmb300,000.
In an interview with a blog called Three Voices a 22 year-old woman explained that she began using the app to pay for her living costs while she was studying in the United States. She was happy when it became available in China because it allows her to have experiences she’d otherwise be unable to afford.
“I have a boyfriend my own age,” she admitted. But WiC doesn’t see wedding bells ahead for the couple as she also told the Three Voices blog: “It’s none of his business what I do in my free time.”
Of course the issue of yuanjiao or “compensated dating” is nothing new in China. Modelling agencies, dating websites and social media help facilitate relationships in which one side provides gifts or money in exchange for companionship or sex. In 2014 China even had its own domestic version of Seeking Arrangement called You Plus.
And as WiC has documented before, many government officials have been known to keep mistresses (see WiC179): a phenomenon which has also been targeted by Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive.
The disappearance of the Seeking Arrangement app will hardly stop the practice of younger women looking for wealthy suitors. When some women heard about the app from the publicity over its closure they took to Sina Weibo to complain that they had never had a chance to make use of it. “Why didn’t I learn about this app sooner?” moaned one. “A good opportunity missed,” grumbled another.
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