When Qu Tongzhou, a photography assistant in Shanghai, set out on a long-awaited trip to western China in June, she found the cities she visited to be unwelcoming. As an aftereffect of the country’s “zero-Covid” policies, locals were leery of travelers, and some hotels refused Ms. Qu, fearing she could introduce the virus.
So Ms. Qu turned to Tantan and Jimu, two popular Chinese dating apps with Tinder-like features. She was aware of the risks involved in meeting strangers, but the apps yielded a wellspring of new friends, including a biotech entrepreneur in the city of Lanzhou, a Tibetan doctor in the town of Xining, and a public official in Karamay, a northwest city of Xinjiang. At each stop, her matches provided lodging and took her to bars and other local spots.
“If I didn’t use these apps, I wouldn’t have met many people,” Ms. Qu, 28, said. “No one would have taken me out on the town.”
Over the past two years, China has cracked down on much of its domestic technology industry, banning for-profit online tutoring agencies, restricting video games and slapping multi-billion-dollar antitrust fines on the largest online shopping platforms. Some of China’s once-vaunted tech titans, like Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce firm Alibaba, have stepped back from public view.
But one corner of China’s technology industry has flourished: dating apps.
The number of dating apps in China with over 1,000 downloads soared to 275 this year from 81 in 2017, according to data.ai, an analytics firm. Downloads of the apps have increased, as have in-app purchases.
Investors have also poured more than $5.3 billion into dating and social networking companies in the country last year, up from $300 million in 2019, according to PitchBook. And China’s largest tech companies, such as ByteDance and Tencent, are testing, acquiring and investing in new apps that promise to bring strangers together.
These apps are flourishing — and Beijing appears to be leaving them alone — for more than just romantic reasons. They promise to nudge people toward marriage at a time when China’s marriage and fertility rates are at record lows, but the apps also are helping users combat loneliness as Covid lockdowns have wreaked havoc on social connections.
For many people, …….