For some couples, a relationship can be tested by rivals in love. In China, thousands of couples pay for "imaginary" rivals in love in cyberspace to test their partner's loyalty. The testing service can now be bought on China's omnipotent e-commerce platform taobao.com.
Chen Mengyun is a so-called "love tester" at a relationship consulting shop on taobao.com. She uses social media tools, such as WeChat or QQ, to test the loyalty of other women's boyfriends. Using enticing words and attractive (and fake) selfies to seduce men, these testers aim to help customers find out whether their partners are honest.
The service reflects the anxiety of infidelity among Chinese couples. According to Chinese sexologist Pan Suiming's research in 2015, around 34 percent of the male respondents aged 18 to 61 acknowledged they have had love affairs. For women, the number is about 14 percent.
However, it is notable that the proportion of women who have love affairs has grown rapidly in recent years. Experts said that urbanization and birth control have given women more freedom to pursue romance and lust.
- Love tester -
If you search "boyfriend loyalty test" on taobao.com, dozens of results pop up, costing from 20 yuan ($3) to 1,314 yuan, depending on different types of services. This Global Times reporter chose a one-day normal testing service at 25 yuan from one of the most popular stores, which has accepted around 800 orders so far. Chen is one of the testers in the store.
The 21-year-old college student in Shandong Province has helped many women "test" their boyfriends online. Rather than being called by their full name, testers usually give a cute name to customers to increase the probability of trapping men. Chen prefers to be called Mengmeng, meaning "dream."
Once the order is paid online, customers need to give the following information to the tester: their partners' full name, job, mobile phone number, social media accounts, hobbies and interests, and the motivation to buy the service. Next, the tester will design a series of tricks to start the trap.
Although some stores and customer services promise they don't reveal any personal information of customers and won't meet any participant offline, they write a disclaimer: "If the test results in any bad consequences, the store doesn't take any responsibility for it."
Some results turn out to be good because the men never accept Chen's friend request on social media. Some couples break up when the test finishes because Chen has successfully seduced disloyal men who agree to come for an appointment or deny that they have girlfriends. Chen sends the whole chat history to customers, showing whether the man is loyal or not.
Most of the comments rating the service show customer satisfaction, whether the end of the story is happy or not. For example, a customer wrote, "Thank you tester for being so patient and helping me to see that he is a bastard!" Meanwhile, some women found reassurance. "I am so glad that my boyfriend has resisted temptation, but don't do this test on the people you truly love. He would get very sad if he knew [I hired people to test him]. I hope he will never find it out.
- Women's love affairs -
The existence of such a service is a result of a new type of internet service combining human nature and commodities, which has both buyer's and seller's markets in the country.
Chen believes she is doing something good to help girls recognize bad men. "I used the service four months ago to test my boyfriend. Later, I applied for the job myself," she said.
She added that not only women pay for the service but also men.
The customer service of the shop said that testing women is more expensive than men, at least 90 yuan, because "trapping women is harder than men."
Compared with men, having a love affair for women is traditionally intolerable in Chinese society, but according to Pan's research, from 2000 to 2015 across China, the infidelity rate of women has also risen. Some 3.2 percent of the male participants said they were sure that their wives had love affairs, which was higher than the number reported by females, 2.9 percent.
Pan noted that although the proportion of love affairs among men is higher than that of women, the rate of love affairs for women has risen very quickly, from 4 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2015.
Wang Xin, a sociology professor at Shandong University, told the Global Times that urbanization has freed many women from traditional obligations of marriage and family, and this could be a reason for the rising proportion of Chinese women's love affairs.
She pointed out the rise in women's love affairs is associated with an increasing population of women in the countryside who are choosing to work in cities. When rural women start entering the job market in cities, they gain more economic freedom, which in turn empowers them more autonomy in their relationship choices.
Another aspect of the phenomenon is related to China's decades-long family planning policy, according to Wang. Girls who are the only child gain lots of attention from their families and generally receive better educations than older generations. "I think no country is like China, witnessing such a rapid development in female's autonomy, self-discipline and exploration of lust," she added.
- Open relationships -
In recent years, dating apps have become a normal method of modern courtship in China, just like in the West. Many people believe this results in more extramarital affairs. According to a Tencent's survey in 2016, half of the 50,000 respondents have used dating apps, and coincidently, half of them have had love affairs.
However, cheating on partners is difficult to define, according to sexologist Pan Suiming, who was dubious that flirting on the internet should be considered cheating in the same way that a physical affair is.
"Although morality, law and ideology can punish the cheater, who can punish and ban the invisible 'mistress' on the internet?" Pan wrote on his blog.
Wang also noted that although dating apps have posed challenges to the traditional exclusive intimate relationship, people should not assume that young people are generally becoming more permissive toward sex and open relationships. A conservative mentality toward love affairs has deep roots in China.
From the 1950s to 1970s, employees who had love affairs had to face administrative sanctions, and their future would be gloomy. After the reform and opening-up policies starting in the late 1970s, companies and public institutions abolished such penalties.
In the 1980s, the marriage law was changed. Some people proposed that the law should be used to punish cheaters - if any party was disloyal, the partner could ask for help from the police. But due to the chorus of opposition, the actual amendment only added, "Couples should be loyal to each other."
Public opinion on love affairs has gradually changed, said Wang. "After news about celebrities' love affairs was revealed, I notice some netizens jumped out to challenge traditional values. The more voices we hear like this, more advanced our society is."
She referred to China's most-discussed love affair, involving domestic movie star Wang Baoqiang and his wife Ma Rong, who had a secret love affair with Wang's agent. Their break-up aroused heated discussions online.
"I hope our society can be more diverse. Even though couples who conform to an open relationship are marginal and excluded by the mainstream, I hope their voice can be heard if they don't damage other's interests. Hence they can choose their lifestyle happily and I think this represents our society's progress," Wang Xin said.