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In Lunar New Year demand, China Girlfriend Rental App Gets Leg Up

In Lunar New Year demand, China Girlfriend Rental App Gets Leg Up
In China, single people are often subjected to tough lectures from relatives keen on reinforcing the importance of marriage and securing the family blood line and some are busy answering messages on a mobile app from desperate men looking to hire an instant girlfriend whom they can present to mom and dad as millions in China head home to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with their families.
To appease their parents, some singles resort to hiring fake girlfriends and boyfriends. But now, one can now pay for such a date through a handful of mobile apps, with just a few clicks due to an explosion in smartphone use in recent years.
"Over 1,000 users on our platform have signed up as dates for hire for the New Year break," Cao Tiantian, founder of date-for-hire app Hire Me Plz, told Reuters.
For a dinner date, a chat, a game of mah-jong or even a foot massage, subscribers to the app pay from as little as 1 yuan ($0.15) to 1,999 yuan an hour.
With thousands of attractive twenty-somethings like Luoluo commanding fees of 3,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan a day, prices surge around the time of Lunar New Year.
"I'm still seeking people to fill my time slots," said the woman from the southwestern province of Sichuan, who has just two half-day slots left to fill over the next seven days.
"But only those who stay in the same province as me. I don't have time to waste on travel," she added.
Such platforms make their money by taking a cut from hires, and also from subscription fees and apart from Hire Me Plz, there are five major date-hiring apps in China.
"Our business model is still new, though an increasing number of young people have accepted the idea of selling their time as commodity," said Beijing-based Cao, who expects date-rental to become a multi-billion dollar market in five years.
1.7 million followers on Tencent's WeChat, China's biggest mobile social media network and user base of 700,000 has been garnered by Hire Me Plz since its launch in 2015.
With some netizens on social media and legal experts questioning the morality and legality of the business, date rentals - offline or online - have drawn criticism in recent years.
"There are no clear prohibitions in Chinese laws regarding date rentals. But risks exist among such deals, which may also violate the law to some extent," state-run China News Services this month cited Li Hongzhao, an official of the Beijing Lawyers Association Criminal Law Committee, as saying.
Sex is not part of the services offered on any of the mobile apps. Prostitution is illegal in China.
Baidu's Tieba classifieds and Tencent's QQ messaging service are also platforms where dating services are also offered by individuals. But unlike the mobile apps those services provide no identity authentication and therefore buyers need to beware.
Young people leaving home to work alone in big cities experienced loneliness and the the initial aim of her app was to help overcome the problem, said Hire Me Plz's Cao.
"I was seeking a more effective way to ask someone out. Who wants to chat for months via social networks and end up with nothing?"

Christopher J. Mitchell

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