"Companionship economy" relieves loneliness, requires strict supervision

Source: Xinhua| 2021-05-19 18:39:24|Editor: huaxia


Chen Xin has fallen in love for the first time and chats with her "boyfriend" almost every day on the instant messaging service WeChat.


"We don't meet or go on dates, but whenever I need company, he is there to chat and provide emotional support, which soothes my mind," said Chen, 26.


Chen works for a Beijing-based internet company and lives alone. A fast-paced lifestyle has led to significant pressure. She learned about "virtual partners" by chance and decided to give it a try, spending less than 100 yuan (16 U.S. dollars) an hour for "exclusive chats."


"Virtual partners" originated in Japan and provide paid socializing services. A customer pays a certain amount of money for timed companionship services, where a companion will establish a temporary relationship with the customer. Services include chatting, playing online games, making wake-up calls and helping the customer get to sleep.


The virtual services have recently gained prominence in China as Thursday is May 20, or "520." The pronunciation of "520" is similar to "I Love You" in Chinese.


As Chen chatted more with her "boyfriend," she began to confide in him. He listened to all her annoyances attentively, and comforted and encouraged her.


"I felt so relaxed after getting everything off my chest," she said.


Like Chen Xin, many young people have turned to such services to relieve loneliness.


China is home to 240 million singles, and more than 77 million of them live alone, official figures show.


Wang Ming, 31, is a taxi driver. He is a fan of online games and recently paid money to find someone to play these games with him.


"I have someone to talk with when playing online games," said Wang. "When you have a bad day, you can tell them."


Compared to talking with acquaintances, he prefers a "chatty and funny stranger," saying he feels more "at ease."


The new "companionship economy" can help relieve pressure and anxiety among young people to some extent, said Yang Suchang, a professor with the school of economics at Lanzhou University.


However, some have expressed concerns.


Ding Hao, director of the center against telecommunications fraud of Lanzhou City, Gansu Province, said that without proper supervision, such services could become a hotbed for pornography and fraud.


Fu Linlin, 30, once encountered online fraud.


"He talked sweet to me every day, and I gave tens of thousands of yuan to him via the internet," she said. "But he grew more and more distant and delayed his replies after two months of our 'relationship.'"


Fu said that occasionally chatting with a virtual partner is a good choice, but obsession is dangerous.


"You could pay your price, big time," she said.


Chen Xin has seen similar stories online, and says she will treat her "relationship" more rationally.


"Paying for an online romance will help you shake off loneliness for a little while," she said. "But in the end, you need to be strong and powerful yourself to face up to life's problems."