Hutong Jiemei is a Radii column in which sisters Krista and Sophia Pederson — Tulsa natives who’ve been living in China for a decade each — navigate lifestyle trends in today’s Beijing. “Hutong” is the name of the city’s traditional alleys, where they share an apartment; “jiemei” is Chinese for sisters. Today’s entry is a first-person account of Sophia’s dating life on Chinese mobile app TanTan.
There are a few different dating apps built for China. I first started using what is now the most popular, TanTan, in 2014, after a friend suggested it over Momo, a competing app. TanTan had just launched that year, and was designed to be like Tinder with Chinese characteristics — the founders had studied abroad in Sweden and come back to China to start the company. Fast forward a few years, and in June 2017, the company has raised over 120 million USD and listed on the NASDAQ.
Momo always intimidated me. It felt a bit too complicated and required too much effort compared with a simple swipe-left-or-right app. So after my friend suggested TanTan, I quickly downloaded it and set to uploading my pics and a short introduction in Chinese: “Paper Tiger” (a reference Mao’s quote about American imperialists — basically all bark and no bite) + some selfies. At the time, I was in the prime of my 20s. I was single and ready to mingle (online of course).
For me, the Chinese dating scene is difficult since I am an outspoken American white female who likes (or at least, used to like) Chinese rockers — guys in bands with long hair and leather jackets. When I started back in 2014, I only played around a little on the app, and after I started dating my then boyfriend, I deleted it.
For me, the Chinese dating scene is difficult since I am an outspoken American white female who likes Chinese rockers
Fast forward a year — we broke up, and I booted up the app again. The first thing any Western user will notice is that TanTan is pretty much an exact replica of Tinder, but has some nice features that regular, free Tinder does not. It shows when you’re online, when you’re typing in a chat, and when you’ve last logged in. This is nice for stalking your crush, but also a double-edged sword, because that boy you’ve been keeping around on chat but still haven’t decided if you are going to delete or not can do the same to you.
There’s also a function that creepily shows if you’ve crossed paths, and on what day. Maybe it’s a conversation starter?
My dating app game is different on TanTan versus Tinder. Most of the boys on TanTan are Chinese (this should be obvious), and most of the boys I swipe right on have never been outside China, and usually have no foreign friends. So I always start out the conversation in Chinese — otherwise I might not get anywhere. Most of the conversations at first are very similar: “Oh! You speak Chinese! Your Chinese is very good. Where are you from?” Etc.
Full disclosure: I’ve never actually ended up meeting anyone on TanTan. I’ve found that most of the time the boys will want to talk but never ask me out, and I’m too shy/nervous to do the asking. TanTan might be trying to solve China’s singles problem, but it didn’t manage to solve mine.
In the end, I’ve switched completely over to Tinder, which I’ve found to have a smaller but more interesting user pool in Beijing — more proactive, and more used to talking with foreigners. But, then again, I’m still single.
Cover image: Momo (via SCMP)