Sino single women opt for virtual BFs
The 19-year-old pre-medical student has spent more than 1,000 yuan (US$150) speaking to “virtual boyfriends.” These aren’t seedy sex-chat lines but men who charge for friendly and flirty online communication, from wake-up calls to lengthy text exchanges and video conversations. “If someone is willing to keep me company and chat, I’m pretty willing to spend money,” said Robin, who didn’t want to give her real name. The option for intimacy on-demand has gained popularity among China’s middle-income young women, who are often focused on careers with no immediate plans to marry and start a family. Shops selling virtual friends and partners can be found on Chinese messaging app WeChat or on an e-commerce site like Taobao. Several virtual boyfriends told AFP that most of their customers are single women in their twenties with disposable income. By day, 22-year-old Zhuansun Xu is a foreign exchange trader in Beijing. By night, he chats with female clients who pay him to be their “boyfriend”, something he has done for the past year. Girls come to Zhuansun with different needs - some want friendly advice, while others have more romantic requests. “While we’re interacting, I tell myself: I really am her boyfriend, so how can I treat her well?” he told AFP. “But after we’re done, I’ll stop thinking this way.” Prices start from a few yuan for half an hour of texting, to a few thousand yuan to keep a companion on retainer for phone calls throughout a month. “People have figured out how to commodify affection,” said Chris KK Tan, an associate professor at Nanjing University who has researched the phenomenon. “This is a new mode of womanhood that is unprecedented in China,” Tan said. Pursuing romance had not been available to many Chinese women in the past. Sandy To, a sociologist at the University of Hong Kong, said marriage had traditionally been a “must” in patriarchal Chinese society. But Tan says that the one-child policy—which came into force in 1979 and limited the size of most families—has created “a generation of self-confident and resourceful women.” A preference for boys meant a generation of sex-selective abortions and abandoned baby girls, and in 2018, China still had the world’s most skewed gender ratio at 114 boys born for every 100 girls.