They’re watching you 😬

Imagine your parents spying on your date. In China, there’s an app for that.

Mar 07, 2019

Live-streaming has exploded in China in recent years, along with online dating. Now, there’s a service that combines both—to often hilarious effect.

Chinese dating app Zhenai, the offshoot of an online matchmaking service, has a feature that allows users to have blind dates through video chats.

But these chats happen live, in public and for everyone to watch and comment.

An awkward first date on Zhenai.
An awkward first date on Zhenai. / Photo: Abacus

That means prospective partners’ parents might check in to see how a date is going, drawing parallels to how parents in China will often vet a potential partner’s social and financial standing in real life.

Zhenai has more than 140 million registered users, and made its name with its online dating platform and more expensive matchmaking services. It ventured into live-streaming in 2017 to reach a younger audience.

But it wasn’t until last month, during Chinese New Year, that Zhenai really went viral, climbing to the top 10 on Apple’s free apps list.

The app offers different ways for fostering digital romance. One feature allows users to sing karaoke together. Another lets people record short videos—which for many men means staring stone-faced into the camera.

Young singles in China often face pressure from their parents to get hitched, and the pressure tends to peak during Chinese New Year, when the entire family gathers at the dinner table. It gets so bad that some resort to renting fake boyfriends to bring home.

(Read more: The challenges of finding love in Hong Kong)

Zhenai says its one-on-one streaming feature was especially popular during the holiday period, which means plenty of people had a chance to listen to awkward first-time conversations such as this one:

Woman: “You know, all of us have shortcomings, every person’s character is different, and I myself have many areas where I need improvement.” (She then goes on about her shortcomings for about five minutes.) “So what would you say were your weak spots?”

Man: “Erm…” (Followed by 30 seconds of awkward silence.)

Live chats are just one of many adventurous options on Zhenai. Like Tinder, the app also allows users to swipe through profiles—except on Zhenai, getting a match leads to a direct voice call with the person, raising the stakes even higher.

Although having a blind date with an audience might seem like an unorthodox way of dating, it seems to appeal to some people, especially those born in the 1980s and ’90s, according to Zhenai.

And let’s be honest, it can hardly be more cringeworthy than most reality dating shows.

Adapted from an article first published in Abacus.

The Chinese internetDating and romanceZhenaiLive-streaming