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2018-05-25 11:28:25

The Chinese version of an American dating app has received a warm response from consumers in China, but not everyone is loving the romance.

China’s largest multipurpose messaging app, WeChat, suspended the public account of Seeking Arrangement on Tuesday without explanation, according to reports from several Chinese media outlets. The move comes after the app suddenly became the most downloaded free app on China’s iOS App Store, jumping all the way up from 766th to the top spot in a matter of days.

Seeking Arrangement brands itself as a digital matchmaker connecting “sugar babies” and “sugar daddies.” Though the Chinese version debuted in 2016 with the promise of pairing “charming sweethearts” with “financially successful people,” it is unclear why the app suddenly shot to fame this week or why WeChat suspended its account. Sixth Tone’s email to WeChat had not been answered by time of publication.

A screenshot from the Chinese version of the Seeking Arrangement app says users of ‘high quality’ and ‘good taste’ are encouraged to register.

A screenshot from the Chinese version of the Seeking Arrangement app says users of ‘high quality’ and ‘good taste’ are encouraged to register.

In recent years, Chinese attitudes toward dating and marriage have shifted significantly. Several domestic dating apps for straight and gay couples have popped up, singles have shown a willingness to pay dating coaches to help them find love, and national surveys indicate that the younger generation has more open attitudes about sex. However, on Chinese social media, many are questioning Seeking Arrangement’s business model, as well as its morality, arguing that it exploits and sexualizes women.

“What kind of an exchange is this? Isn’t this just prostitution?” read one upvoted comment on microblog platform Weibo. “What happened to women’s rights?” another user questioned. “Are they dead?”

Seeking Arrangement — which claims to have some 2 million active users in China, 80 percent of whom it says are women — has also attracted attention from official quarters. The Shanghai government is currently investigating how the company got its business license, as well as the reasons behind its sudden rise in China, online media outlet Red Star News reported Wednesday. Seeking Arrangement is registered in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone under a company called Entertainment Information Technology (Shanghai) Co. Ltd. — which the Pudong New Area Market Supervision Bureau has called an “abnormal business,” the report said.

Sixth Tone’s calls to the bureau went unanswered on Friday, and multiple attempts to reach representatives for Seeking Arrangement were unsuccessful.

A screenshot from CNN shows Seeking Arrangement’s CEO and founder, Brandon Wade, posing for a photo. From Seeking Arrangement’s official website

A screenshot from CNN shows Seeking Arrangement’s CEO and founder, Brandon Wade, posing for a photo. From Seeking Arrangement’s official website

In the past couple of years, the Chinese internet has become a battleground between regulators, media platforms, and content deemed vulgar, sexually explicit, or historically insensitive. In March, Q&A platform Zhihu was taken offline for 7 days for “lax supervision and the spread of illegal information.” The following month, livestreaming app Kuaishou was criticized by state broadcaster China Central Television for poor content management.

China’s internet regulators have shut down nearly 1,200 websites and 580,000 user accounts across different online platforms in the first quarter of 2018 for various unlawful activities, including the dissemination of vulgar content.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Stockbyte/VCG)