China’s “social credit score” system has taken a dark new twist. What you do, drink, buy and say could now determine whom you are allowed to date.
The Chinese Communist Party commissars of Jinan city in Shandong province are pulling everything they know about the 650,000 citizens under their control into one State-controlled singles dating app.
It’s called Palm Guixi.
And it’s the regional response to Chairman Xi Jinping’s order to turn around the nation’s collapsing marriage and birth rates.
The idea is simple.
Build comprehensive profiles about eligible young men and women’s personalities, habits, preferences, behaviours – and affiliations. Boil these down to scores. Run them through an AI. Then organise a blind date for the resulting ideal match.
Put simply, the Communist Party of China has got a math problem.
There were 7.6 million first-time marriages in 2021. That’s 500,000 fewer than the year before and 5 million less than in 2013.
And marriages are needed to produce future party members.
That’s not happening.
Since abandoning a long-standing one-child policy in 2016, national birth rates have plummeted. Only 6.8 children were born for every 1000 people in 2022.
And that’s despite Beijing having mandated three children for every household.
While demographers believe recent birth declines are a statistical anomaly brought about by Beijing’s draconian COVID-19 lockdown policies, it underscores long-standing fears for the nation’s future.
Now the Party has renewed its efforts to bring more of the right kinds of people together to generate more marriages and, therefore, more babies.
But it doesn’t think young unmarried Party members can work it out for themselves.
Let’s get this party started
Chairman Xi Jinping’s tenure as chief of the Chinese Communist Party wants the role of women within Chinese society revisited.
The idea of the People’s Revolution was for gender equality in all things.
But Xi wants to bring back elements of traditional Confucian philosophy.
In 2013, during one of his first speeches as a national leader, Xi proclaimed it was crucial for women to be “good wives and mothers” to ensure the “healthy growth of the next generation”.
Ten years later, that idea is being turned into law.
As of January, the updated Women’s Rights and Interests Protection Law formally demands “women should respect and obey national laws, respect social morals, professional ethics and family values.”
And Xi has repeated his expectation that Chinese society must “give full play to the unique role of women in promoting the family virtues of the Chinese nation.”
Those virtues and values have yet to be clearly defined. But the message comes amid loud calls to “pass on the red gene from generation to generation”.
That means young women focused on their studies and careers are now officially out of step with Communist Party policy.
Marriage in China has traditionally been a community affair.
Parents, village elders and business leaders regularly gather to identify suitable pairings. Then the full weight of peer pressure would be brought to bear.
But an emphasis on advanced education in the 1990s and the arrival of internet dating in the 2000s have pushed this practice aside.
Young men and women have become used to finding partners that suit their tastes, needs and styles. And women have chosen careers ahead of children.
The Ministry of Education now considers these to be “leftover women”.
It has instructed schools to teach girl students that not marrying was “self-serving and oblivious to family morality and imperatives of national development”.
“Leftover women” have since embraced the label in ironic protest.
Women, however, aren’t the only target.
Beijing is raging against “foreign influences”. It has formally banned men from appearing “too effeminate” in an effort to reinforce what it calls China’s “revolutionary culture.”
The Chinese Communist Party can’t afford such loose ends.
The one-child policy of 1979 resulted in parents choosing boys over girls.
While the central government-enforced quota was abandoned in 2016, up to 16 per cent of the Chinese population now has little hope of finding a marriage partner.
And most of them are now of marriageable age.
Sex, lies and spies
Beijing has been cracking down hard on China’s digital culture.
Access to online video games has been restricted. Digital tutors are out of favour. Even online shopping has begun attracting strict new regulations.
But the dating app industry has exploded.
And Beijing’s been turning a blind eye.
Last year there were 275 different online dating services. In 2017, there were 81.
Some estimates now say the industry is worth $7 billion annually.
But that may all soon come to an end.
The Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPC) has declared social media and dating websites “a hotbed for the infiltration of foreign hostile forces”.
It warned students and lonely singles were becoming “the prey of foreign criminals”.
But it’s also an opportunity to address “the marriage problem” and impose a “correct attitude” on younger generations.
So what can China’s dating scene expect from this hot new dating scene?
In 2017, the Nanchang Communist Party branch issued – and then retracted – a “Blind Date Guidebook for Communist Party Members”.
It addressed questions such as whether or not it was appropriate to date someone who owned several houses and multiple cars. It was okay, the guidebook said, though it advised against giving extravagant gifts to a desired date partner. “Excessive extravagance will convince the society and the masses (you are) no longer a real Communist Party member,” it warned.
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