Fed up with traditional matchmaking, young Chinese turn to Ultimate Frisbee, roleplaying games, and other social events to find love
“Men must have over 50 million yuan in assets , and women must be young, beautiful, and highly educated,” goes a curious recruitment ad for a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee scheduled on July 3 in Beijing this year. Posted by a “high-end” dating organization on Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok), the ad states that men’s assets will be verified and they will need to pay 6,000 yuan to join, while the women can join for free but will be required to go through an interview.
This viral ad quickly fueled controversy about the booming sport: Besides football players complaining that Ultimate Frisbee is taking up the pitches they used to play on, many netizens have dubbed female Frisbee players feipan yuan (飞盘媛, “Frisbee beauties”)—who are supposedly more interested in being seen in their makeup and tight sportswear than the game itself.
Despite the controversies, arguably, Frisbee has surged to become one of the most popular social trends among young Chinese, especially the generation born between 1995 and 2009, over the last several years, attracting everyone from sports fans to singles in search of a partner. While young people today are increasingly comfortable with broadening their social circle and making new friends before rushing into marriage, they are also showing a preference for offline, outdoor activities over online, indoor alternatives.
According to a 2021 report by Analysys, a Chinese technology and market analysis agency, members of Gen Z, who accounted for around half of the over 30 million online dating users last year, prefer a “pan-socializing (泛社交)” approach that favors spending time together via social events over conventional, marriage-oriented dates (相亲) set up by friends, family members, or apps.
Based on a survey this year of 1,369 Chinese youths, the majority of them born after 1990, tech news website 36Kr found that 91.1 percent of these millennials still go on dates arranged by family and friends. Among the “self-arranged” dating methods, 36.9 percent of youths prefer offline activities like parties or jubensha (剧本杀, literally “scripted kill”), a type of role-playing murder mystery game, to meet or connect with potential dates, compared with 21.7 percent choosing WeChat, Weibo and other social media apps; 20.9 percent choosing matchmaking websites; and only 13.2 percent choosing dating apps.
Duo Chunheng, manager of an online jubensha platform, believes jubensha is a quick and effective means of socializing. “The plot setting and role-playing of jubensha offers players, who sometimes play couples, a perfect channel to interact,” he explains to TWOC. “In the course of the game, they can better understand how their partner thinks, how they deal with different problems, their view on love, and other personality traits.”
Likewise, Baoge, a jubensha business owner in Jinan, Shandong province, told local newspaper Qilu Evening News last December, “Ordinary dates are just awkward conversations over coffee or a meal, but the games can help players break the ice and grow closer.” Another jubensha business owner claimed that many of his customers began dating one another, and some have even gotten married (and invited him to the wedding).
Meanwhile, dating agencies and individuals alike are swarming to Frisbee. In fact, the popularity of Frisbee has surged in China since the latter half of 2021, when indoor activities such as jubensha were suspended due to repeated Covid-19 outbreaks, observes Shang Chao, organizer and coach of Beijing-based WS-FLY Club. He tells TWOC that the number of participants in the club’s Frisbee events increased from a dozen to around 2,000, roughly divided equally by male and female.
Hiking, camping, and cycling are among other outdoor activities that have popular in the socializing and dating scenes, summarized as “mountain life (山系生活)” by social media app Xiaohongshu. However, just how long these emerging activities can stay popular—and just how effective they are at improving one’s romantic prospects—remains to be seen. Two Beijing hike organizers, part of many groups who’ve offered “singles only” hikes (promising equal numbers of men and women), tells TWOC there are other groups who take the matchmaking aspect seriously and have been able to profit from it, but theirs have been less successful, and never restricted non-singles from signing up.
Another hiker, blogging on Xiaohongshu under the handle “Beijing Travel Master,” recently had a post screenshot in a recent article by online magazine Sanlian Life Lab alleging that “in some Beijing hiking groups, men being able to finish the ‘Three Peaks’ [hiking route in Beijing’s suburbs] within six hours, and women to be able to finish within seven hours, are basic matchmaking requirements.” The author, however, tells TWOC that he had simply summarized stories he’d heard from other hikers in a semi-sarcastic way, and he personally doesn’t know anyone who goes hiking just to get a date.
“Beijing Travel Master’s” post about the supposed requirements for a mate among some Beijing hikers (Xiaohongshu)
Xing Suying, a 26-year-old IT worker in Beijing, has played Frisbee every weekend since early July when she was introduced to the sport by a friend. She tells TWOC that she has greater interest in the sport than her usual gym workout and swimming sessions, because she can interact with other players. She has heard of some male coworkers explicitly express a desire to meet more members of the opposite sex through social activities. But she has her doubts over what can be accomplished on the field during the one or two hours of play.
Shang also points out, “Frisbee is no different from other [group] activities. People can become friends if they have a lot in common, and it’s a way to expand one’s social circle.” At least, if you don’t have 50 million yuan in assets.