Love Under the Watchful Eye: The Controversial State-Backed Dating App in China and Its Threat to Privacy

The world's most populous country plans to stay that way – China has launched a dating app aimed at increasing the birth rate, which was at a record low in 2022.
Having in mind that the state unofficially monitors the behavior of citizens through official applications, the question of user privacy and the protection of human rights is again at stake.

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china dating app

Illustration: MilicaM

About the initiative 

In 2022, China had a record low number of newborns, and that number is expected to be even lower in the current year. This is the first time in 60 years that China’s population has declined. 

As a solution, they designed a national policy to raise the birth rate that only a few countries would dare to do – they launched a dating app. 

Namely, in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi, they developed the Palm Guixi application, after the city of the same name, whose population is about 640,000. The idea of this app is to make it easier for singles to find a partner, and to encourage them to get married. 

In addition to online activities, this state initiative will also organize live events to consolidate social interaction between users. 

So, for example, in the city of Gao’an, a hundred users attended an event designed to “nurture traditional Chinese culture”. All attendees had to come dressed in traditional clothing and participate in games to get closer. 

Judging by the response, single people in this city needed an incentive and an event of this type, which turned out to be much more effective than individual efforts to meet a potential partner. 

On the other hand, many users on the Weibo platform – the Chinese version of Twitter – vigorously oppose this campaign, claiming that it is primitive and superficial. 

However, the initiative did rethink some traditional customs, primarily those concerning the cost of weddings, which is thought to have contributed the most to the decline in marriages over the past decade. 


The "exaction of money or presents in conjunction with marriage" is forbidden by the nation's civil code. But, in actuality, the custom is still widespread, particularly in rural regions. At an average bride price of 380,000 yuan ($ 55,185.23), Jiangxi topped an unofficial national ranking of bride prices in 2022.

Source: The Guardian 

By comparison, the record number of marriages in China was 23 million in 2013. Last year, that number hit a record low at 11.6 million, which is about 700,000 fewer than in the previous year. 

In other words, in China in 2021 there were 5.4 marriages per 1,000 people, while in the US in the same period the average was six marriages per 1,000 people, and in Saudi Arabia as high as 9.6. 

The state officials weren’t thrilled about this negative trend, so they decided to step foot in this very private part of citizens’ lives. 

About the app   

Now that we’ve explained the issue, it’s time to ask the right question. 

How does this app actually work and what are the potential risks to citizens’ privacy? 

This app is built on a wider system that tracks the so-called social credit score. That is, participating in such activities increases citizens’ social credit. 

Why does it matter? 

This system also contains other information about users that are associated, for example, with their digital wallet, and thus consumer habits. This means that the Palm Guixi software, in addition to the information that users enter, has additional knowledge; for example, whether you like to go to the cinema or theater or prefer sports events. 

All of this helps the software to better assess who can be your compatible partner, at the cost of your privacy. 

Since this app is approved by state authorities, this means that it has access to all available information of citizens living in this province. Thanks to it, software can build detailed profiles of users and afterward, with the help of artificial intelligence, decide who the compatible candidates are. 

Once the software matches user profiles, he puts them into the WeChat group to establish communication and get to know each other better. 

The only problem is that state authorities can have access to all interactions on this platform. 

If it turns out that the interaction between users was successful, the application organizes a blind date for them. Rest assured that the authorities have the necessary knowledge on this topic, since the Communist Party of China published the “Blind Date Guidebook for Communist Party Members” in 2017. 

And it doesn’t end there. The Palm Guixi app keeps records of successfully matched couples and, from time to time, asks to be updated about their love life, offering tips for strengthening the relationship in order for the couple to reach the ultimate goal – marriage. 


The question we haven't been able to answer (although we can assume it) is: Is this app only for heterosexual couples?

Although this is the first official dating app in China, it is definitely not the only one. Last year, there were about 275 dating services and, according to some estimates, this industry is worth more than 7 billion US dollars. 

In the future, we can expect even more scenarios like this in countries with low birth rates. Japan has already joined this trend with its version of a similar dating app that also uses artificial intelligence, and South Korea is expected to soon introduce its own version. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.