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    Love on the Air: In China, Blind Dating Finds a Digital Stage

    As more young Chinese turn to social media to build relationships, blind dates on livestreaming channels are surging in popularity. Offering serious matchmaking and casual socializing, such channels are attracting thousands of hopeful singles each day.

    Every three minutes, a new participant steps into a tiny digital window on Huang Wenyi’s livestream. As they enter, Huang, a 25-year-old medical student, poses rapid-fire questions about their lives, ambitions, and desires.

    The interactive exchange is part of a new phenomenon sweeping across Chinese social media: blind dating via livestreams, where hopeful singles look to find a connection — all in front of an online audience of thousands.

    “We call it opening the blind boxes,” Huang, from the southwestern city of Chengdu, tells Sixth Tone. “People love watching others go on blind dates, or helping someone go on one. It’s like watching ‘If You Are The One,’” she adds, referring to the dating game show that once dominated China’s weekend television.

    Huang’s livestream, titled “High-Quality Blind Dates,” is broadcast on the lifestyle app Xiaohongshu, primarily drawing individuals in their 20s. However, a variety of similar livestreams have emerged across Chinese social media, catering to both serious matchmaking endeavors and casual socializing.

    According to the domestic outlet Legal Daily, 66 blind date livestreams were launched during the Lunar New Year holiday in February across eight provinces, each attracting an average of over 15 million viewers.

    On Douyin, the Chinese counterpart to TikTok, professional matchmakers, known in Chinese as hongniang, have launched livestream channels, broadening the appeal to include viewers of various ages, including middle-aged individuals. For instance, a blind date livestream targeting postgraduates launched in mid-February already averages 80,000 views per show.

    Data from the popular dating app Soul reveals that online platforms are now one of the most significant channels for the younger generation to build relationships, with 45% expanding their social networks through digital interactions.

    And the market for online marriage and dating services has now reached 7.2 billion yuan ($1 billion), up 750 million yuan since 2020, with consulting firm Business Point estimating that it will double by 2026.

    The surge comes amid mounting concerns over the country’s capacity to navigate a looming population crisis. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2022, the percentage of unmarried individuals aged 25-29 was 56.9%, and the average age of first marriage in China rose to 28.7 in 2020, up by 3.78 years from 2010.

    As more young Chinese turn to social media to forge new connections, the transition has also raised concerns about the authenticity of personal information shared online, potentially leading to fraud risks.

    Domestic media have reported multiple instances where matchmakers collaborated with participants to deceive others by manipulating personal details, causing financial losses in the tens of thousands of yuan.

    Huang acknowledges the limitations in verifying guest information on her livestreams, and says she often reminds her audience to remain cautious about personal and financial data.

    Despite these concerns, her platform has already helped match five individuals since January.

    “The pace for such blind dates is fast, but how a relationship progresses is up to the individuals involved. We just provide the opportunity for people to meet. What happens next, especially offline and how they decide to move forward, is their choice,” she explains.

    Matchmaking 2.0

    In late January, fresh from her preliminary graduate entrance exam, Huang initially started the livestream to share insights on exam preparation and work experiences.

    But she soon noticed that discussions often veered into personal relationships, which helped attract a larger audience, increase viewer engagement, and boost her visibility online.

    “I typically stream between 9 p.m. and about 1 a.m., but I sometimes run as late as 3 a.m. if there’s a lively discussion. On one occasion, responding to fan requests, I hosted a marathon 72-hour stream, even inviting a fan to co-host,” she says.

    These streams draw approximately 110,000 views each night, peaking at around 1,000 live viewers, according to Xiaohongshu’s analytics platform, Newrank.

    Viewers begin by applying for a spot in the livestream. Each new guest is given the floor to share their background, including location, education level, profession, interests, and what they’re seeking, with the option to even showcase a talent such as singing or playing a musical instrument.

    Introductions typically last three to five minutes, though there’s no strict time limit. Audience members can connect with guests they find interesting by following their social media profiles and sending private messages.

    On air, participants often boast about their educational credentials: Huang’s guests have included Ph.D. students from MIT, postgraduates from Peking University, bank executives, and even some employees from state-owned enterprises.

    “Most participants were born in the 1990s and 2000s, with those in their 20s making up nearly 40% of the participants. Most younger adults, facing less societal pressure to marry, join the livestreams just to have fun and socialize,” says Huang.

    Liu Xinliang, a 28-year-old postgraduate student from the northern city of Tianjin, met his girlfriend Cao Zhihong, who’s from Urumqi in the northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, on Huang’s livestream during a discussion on doctoral applications.

    At the time, however, Liu was reluctant to start a serious relationship online, especially amid the uncertainties of hunting for a job.

    “I was asked to share my life experience in the livestream. I spoke about working for two years after graduation and traveling to over 40 countries, which may have helped spark interest. My girlfriend sent me a direct message after that,” he recalls.

    Two weeks later, they decided to be together, despite living in different cities — a factor each once considered as a deal-breaker. They are now looking into opportunities to work in the same city and have plans to meet in person for the first time in May.

    “Initially, I was resistant to blind dates. But when I saw other young people meeting new people in a more relaxed way, I became more open to it. It’s different from traditional blind dates that have just one purpose,” he says.

    Lei Mengyuan, a 25-year-old postgraduate student, believes young Chinese prefer online chats and dates because they’re quick and easy, much like fast food. “People like the convenience and efficiency of forming connections online,” says Lei, who was part of Huang’s livestream before it pivoted to blind dating but still continues to attend for the camaraderie it offers.

    On one occasion, an individual dealing with depression joined the livestream to practice socializing, found encouragement, and became a loyal viewer. Another involved a Chinese expatriate discussing his loneliness.

    “I think young people now are really lonely… In fact, I believe we’re using this platform to heal each other,” says Huang.

    Huang’s livestream doesn’t require viewers to pay, but she does receive virtual gifts that offer a small boost to her income. For her, it’s more important that the platform offers a sense of mutual support.

    “I’m not sure if this will continue, given how fast everything changes and interests shift,” she says. “All I know is that we’ve healed each other.”

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: A matchmaker introducing a single man during a livestream in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Nov. 27, 2020. IC)