The digital revolution has transformed how people meet and fall in love, but has it also made the presence of a "dating elite" more apparent? Photo: IC
B. Ludwig, 28, has been using the Chinese dating app Tantan for over a year to "find friends and to date."
The German national, who owns a company in China, has mixed feelings toward the app. On one hand, the men he met through the app were more interested in becoming business partners than friends, and the women were either using him to improve their English or looking for a fun way to kill time with the built-in chat function instead of meeting in real life.
The Caucasian Tantan profiles were four times more successful than the Asian ones, according to a social experiment lead by the Metropolitan. Photo: IC
"But I still think it's one of the best ways to connect with Chinese people, due to a lack of other platforms," Ludwig said.
Lovoo, Badoo, Tinder, Grindr, Her, Tantan, Momo, Blued and LesPark, the number of dating apps have proliferated both in the West and the East. They promise an exciting dating adventure, butterflies, casual sex and love on command - all at the touch of your fingertips on your mobile phone.
This is how the digital revolution has transformed our dating culture. It has enabled people to meet across social milieus, increased intercultural marriages and has led to more marriage stability, according to the MIT Technology Review magazine. But does it benefit everyone equally? The short answer is no. The nature of the dating apps favors those who are considered "attractive" by society's terms.
"Society has been conditioned to see Caucasian people as the standard of beauty, and your tastes are a product of this," the magazine Study Breaks wrote, arguing that having a certain racial type in dating and excluding races is a "polite, thinly veiled" form of racism.
Dating apps all work the same way, more or less. People "like" or "dismiss" a person based on their profile picture by swiping right or left. If both users like each other, it's a match, which means they can start a chat conversation.
Photos taking center stage as the largest element of the profile and a person's description being limited to a certain number of characters ensure that these apps are all about beauty and appearance.
Western women on top
Recently, a social experiment with Tinder in the US revealed that the results are heavily influenced not only by attractiveness but also by race. The analysis featured by the online magazine nextshark.com showed that white males outperformed Asian males by far on the app. Asian model Godfrey Gao reached a 1.54 percent match rate while the Caucasian model Matthew Noszka got a 6.84 percent match rate out of 5,000 swipes.
Data analysis by the American online dating website OkCupid from 2009 to 2014 proved that people of color and Asian men are marginalized the most in the dating market. Asian men received negative match scores from Caucasians, Latinas and women of color. Only Asian women rated Asian males positively on average.
However, both of these analyses took place in the American dating market. How is China different?
Ludwig said the Chinese women on Tantan were more interested in friendship and romantic relationships, whereas women on Tinder were instead up for hookups. He had "only" been offered two casual sex dates during his time on Tantan. "I always asked the women why they had liked me in the first place. Some countries seem to be more attractive than others. Germany has a good image, and German men are very popular; they are considered handsome."
To find out more about the role that race plays in online dating in China, the Metropolitan launched a social experiment on the Chinese dating app Tantan. The platform has mainly Chinese users.
Metropolitan reporters created four fake profiles of Western and Asian men and women, using the pictures of Instagram models or comparable "handsome" friends. The dating profiles were identical except for the photos. Next, Metropolitan reporters swiped 1,000 times, liking every single dating profile.
Surprisingly, the results were similar to previous findings in the US. The Asian man scored lowest with a 3 percent match rate, while his Western counterpart reached an 11.8 percent match rate. Meanwhile, the Asian woman received a 14.7 percent match rate, while the Western woman received an excessively high match rate of 65.7 percent.
Females, in general, reached a higher percentage than the men, perhaps reinforced by the gender imbalance in China (where the population consists of 51.2 percent men and 48.8 percent women, according to the China's Statistical Yearbook).
The racial biases are apparent - the dating elite in China are Caucasian, not Asian.
The Asian fetish
Can we still speak of personal dating preference when revealing such a clear global trend of favoring Caucasian people on the online dating scene, or does it tell us something about how different races are viewed by society as a whole?
The Metropolitan invited three Tantan users to discuss their uses, experiences and views about sexual racism on the dating app. Asian women have been Cedric Dazvik's type ever since he can remember. The 25-year-old French moved to China three years ago. For him, Tantan is a tool for social connections. Recently, he used the app to find a wife "because I want to stay in China forever."
With the help of Tantan, he then succeeded in finding a Chinese girlfriend. But where does his love for Asian women come from?
"I used to watch a lot of K-Pop and J-Pop music videos. There was also a Chinese girl in my city, and I thought she was just so beautiful," he said.
Dazvik does not harbor the same feelings for Western women.
"Personally, I don't like French women much. This is why when I use Tantan and I see a Caucasian woman, I swipe left."
It is not just about looks. "I prefer a Chinese mind. It's better for my life," he said.
Does he discriminate against other races in his dating choices? According to Dazvik, it is "just a taste. We are born with it. I like milk, you don't like milk - it's something inside."
He does acknowledge that a Western man has an advantage on the dating app because they stand out. However, he doesn't think it easy to find someone to marry on the app. "When most Chinese girls look for a Western boy it's just for fun or for short-term relationships. This is my problem because I just want a very long-term relationship," he said.
Mongolian national Sugarmaa Purevkhuu, 27, thinks it is a "strange feeling" picking men according to their location and age group on Tantan.
"I don't think I'll use it anymore," she said.
The results of the Tantan experiment have added to the discomfort of using the app.
"I feel a bit discriminated against. The Western women are more privileged because they are more exotic in Asia," she said.
She does not prefer one race over the other. "I am more attracted by personality than by appearance. The race of the person is not the main point of dating," she said. "I would say that I am open-minded."
Red rose, white rose
Chinese national Franz (pseudonym), 25, has used Tantan for a month. For him, the high score for the Western woman in the Tantan experiment is no surprise.
"If I had to choose between a Chinese and a Western girl on Tantan, I would definitely go for the Western girl. Big eyes, a big nose and a small chin make them classic beauties from a Chinese point of view," he said, describing the profile picture of the Instagram model used for the experiment.
"More and more people think that Westerners are a better (dating) choice regarding beauty," he added. "Caucasian women are very attractive to Chinese men of my age."
One of the reasons behind this is the beautifying photo apps and operations some Chinese females undergo, according to Franz.
"My flatmates and I agree on one point - most Chinese girls on Tantan had operations on their face. This is why the majority of us do not trust the face of a Chinese girl," he explained.
"Seventy percent of the girls present on Tantan look very similar. It reflects a reality in China where more and more girls confine themselves to the same beauty standards."
Therefore, Franz tends to go for Western women. He has tried to date them once on the app and "several times without the app."
Unlike Cedric, Franz is not necessarily looking for a serious relationship on Tantan but does not exclude the possibility if the person is right. Franz's reasoning is similar to Zhang Ailing's fictional character Zhenbao, who had two women he called the white and red rose. "One was a spotless wife and the other a passionate mistress."
He believes that the majority of Chinese men would choose a Caucasian woman to be friends "with benefits" and Chinese women for marriage because "marriage is a complex thing" and "easier to handle" with a Chinese women because there are less cultural differences to consider.
Some people decide to leave the dating apps and make up their minds about people based on experiences that everyone's personality is different and not determined by race. In reality, love sometimes happens out of the blue, regardless of the ideal dating "type" people previously had in mind.
Ludwig quit Tantan five months ago. "The reason is that I am in a relationship now," he said. He did not meet her on the app, and he doesn't want to go back to it - at least for now.
"My partner wouldn't appreciate me using Tantan anyhow."