Young Chinese turn to university and online courses to build better relationships
In 2020, after a romantic relationship broke down after just three months, 20-year-old Jia Zhen paid 99 yuan for a one-week online “love psychology” class.
Offered by Wendu Education, the same online learning platform she used for university courses, Jia’s course involved lectures on the psychology of romantic relationships, techniques for dating, and signs of a toxic romance. Two years and a new long-term boyfriend later, Jia is impressed with the outcomes: “I had never thought a relationship was something you needed to learn,” Jia, then a university student in Henan province, tells TWOC.
Courses on relationships and love psychology have become trendy among young Chinese in recent years, particularly university students. Last October, a Wuhan University “Psychology of Love” course led by psychology professor Yu Feng attracted so many students that some even crowded outside the windows to listen in. Yu told The Beijing News he started the class to help students improve their mental health, “establish the right love values,” and “recognize toxic behavior in romantic relationships.”
Similar classes have emerged on other campuses. Beijing Normal University introduced a course on “Intimate Relationships and Self-Growth” in 2007. In 2013, East China Normal University in Shanghai launched a “Marriage and Love” class. In 2015, Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing held classes on how to write love letters and pick up dates.
In a 2020 report, China Youth Daily found that over 88 percent of 1,028 college students surveyed wanted schools to offer courses on relationships, and about three-quarters hoped such courses would help solve their romantic problems.
Lawmakers, too, are concerned that youngsters lack the knowledge to build healthy romantic relationships. Yu Xinwei, a deputy for the National People’s Congress, proposed at a 2021 legislative meeting that relationship courses should be mandatory to help “strengthen university students’ love and marriage education” which she believes will help build “social harmony” and “improve the quality of the population.” Jia also cites reports of domestic violence and sexual abuse as a reason for pursuing relationship education.
The content of such courses, however, has been controversial. In Tianjin University, for example, students enrolled in a class on “Theory in Love and Dating” can receive full marks only if they find a suitable partner during the course. Moreover, courses usually focus on conservative “family values,” teaching how students can get married and have children, and rarely touch on same-sex relationships.
Likewise, college courses remain limited, meaning students like Jia often resort to paying for online relationship courses, which receive little regulation over their content or instructor qualifications. Growing divorce rates and a large gender imbalance have led to a boom in “dating coaches” who provide tips on flirting, seduction, and winning back exes, for costs ranging from 50 yuan for an online course to 20,000 yuan for in-person coaching.
These classes sometimes cross the line. In Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, Ling Tongtong, the founder of the Ling Tongtong Love College, who taught clients how to retain a failed marriage and deal with mistresses, was accused by a student of using vulgar sexual content when teaching female participants how to seduce men at the cost of 8,888 yuan.
Jia says, however, that her course just encouraged her to be more confident and communicate better in her relationship. “Before, I might want my boyfriend to do something to prove he loves me, like posting our photos on WeChat Moments,” Jia recalls. “But now I don’t need that; I can love myself and focus on my own needs.”
Learning to Love: Why Demand for Relationship Classes is Booming in China is a story from our issue, “Lessons For Life.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.