Coffee friends
Photo Credit: VCG
STREET TALK

Young Chinese Are Seeking Friends—With No Strings Attached

“More than acquaintances, not quite friends”: A new Chinese term shows how youngsters are seeking shallow social relationships without expectations of commitment

Friendships come in all stripes in China: such as the 发小 (fàxiǎo, childhood friends) you enjoy catching up with, the 死党 (sǐdǎng) who will always have your back during hard times, and even the “plastic (塑料 sùliào)” friendships that are fake beneath their shiny surfaces. However, a new type of social relationship has recently taken the internet by storm—搭子 (dāzi), friendships with no strings attached.

A term associated with Gen Zers in China, dazi can be translated as “companion” or “partner,” and it’s useful for any social need. Call up your “meal companions (饭搭子 fàndāzi)” to check out a new restaurant, “travel companions (旅游搭子 lǚyóu dāzi)” to split a hotel room, “coffee companions (咖啡搭子 kāfēi dāzi)” to grab a pick-me-up during the workday, or “exercise dazi (运动搭子 yùndòng dāzi)” to hit the gym with—whatever the occasion, dazi is a temporary social relationship formed for a specific purpose, and without the intention of forming a long-term commitment.

Under the slogan “Everything can be done with a companion (万事皆可搭 Wànshì jiē kě dā),” the concept of “dazi socializing (搭子社交 dāzi shèjiāo)” has seemingly become a popular way for young people to quickly form social connections, serving as a substitute for more intimate relationships. To become dazi is simple: Companions may share the same hobbies, or have similar tastes or preferences, leading to a “precise companionship within vertical segmentation (垂直细分领域的精准陪伴 chuízhí xìfēn lǐngyù de jīngzhǔn péibàn),” as netizens summarize on Weibo.

Dazi can be a mutually beneficial relationship. “Postgraduate entrance exam companions (考研搭子 kǎoyán dāzi)” may support one another and share study materials during the rigorous revision period, while “fish-stroking companions (摸鱼搭子 mōyú dāzi)” are indispensable for “wage slaves (打工人 dǎgōngrén)” who want to go on long coffee breaks, share gossip in the bathroom, or find other ways of shirking responsibilities at work (known in Chinese slang as “fish-stroking”).

The benefits can even be financial: “Milk tea companions (奶茶搭子 nǎichá dāzi)” can enjoy “buy one, get one at half price (第二杯半价 dì èr bēi bànjià)” deals, and a typical Chinese family-style meal tends to cost less per person when dining with a bigger party.

Often described as “more than acquaintances, but not quite friends (熟人以上,朋友未满 shúrén yǐshàng, péngyou wèi mǎn),” a dazi should also maintain “a sense of self-awareness about being a mere companion (搭子的自觉 dāzi de zìjué).” Good dazi should understand the importance of maintaining appropriate boundaries, and apart from their shared interests, respect each other’s private lives without interfering or overstepping.

“Available for a chat during work, immediately disconnected after work (上班随时在线,下班立即失联 Shàngbān suíshí zàixiàn, xiàbān lìjí shīlián),” one’s “fish-stroking companions” might be available for lively gossip sessions during working hours, but return to their separate lives as soon as they clock off.

Tired of the rigid hierarchies, courtesies, and obligations that traditionally solidified family relations and friendships in China, youngsters find “shallow social interactions (浅社交 qiǎn shèjiāo)” to be a good way of simplifying their interpersonal connections. It’s also much easier to find a functional partner for one’s hobbies without being concerned about whether you understand each other on a deeper level. “Finding a partner costs money, and you have to endure hardships together. But a dazi only shares the good times, and that’s it (找对象又费钱,还得同甘共苦,搭子只需要同甘,快乐就完事了 Zhǎo duìxiàng yòu fèiqián, hái děi tónggān gòngkǔ, dāzi zhǐ xūyào tónggān, kuàilè jiù wánshì le),” netizens say.

That doesn’t mean it’s any easier to lose a dazi—“without a dining companion, even eating becomes less enjoyable (没有饭搭子,吃饭都不香了 Méiyǒu fàndāzi, chīfàn dōu bù xiāng le),” goes a comment on Weibo. Another declares, “My meal partner at work has quit. It’s more painful than a breakup. (我的饭搭子离职了,比失恋还痛苦。Wǒ de fàndāzi lízhí le, bǐ shīliàn hái tòngkǔ.)”

“I can live without romantic love, but it’s impossible for me to live without a dazi (可以没有爱情,但是不能没有搭子 Kěyǐ méiyǒu àiqíng, dànshì bù néng méiyǒu dāzi),” proclaim numerous people on the internet. Without the need for deep spiritual resonance and requiring less effort to maintain, dazi reduce the time and emotional investment it takes for young people to combat loneliness, especially in large cities where people are migratory, coming in and out of each other’s lives with each passing season. Netizens thus summarized on social media: “Dazi is the soul of life (搭子就是生活的灵魂 Dāzi jiù shì shēnghuó de línghún).”

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author Zhang Wenjie (张文捷)

Zhang Wenjie is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese. She loves to share the lifestyles, voices, and concerns of China’s Gen Z. She is also fond of collecting and displaying the flourishing slang expressions in the Chinese language.