Dating website for sugar daddies and ‘sweethearts’ gains popularity in China

Society & Culture

Seeking Arrangement, an American dating website dedicated to connecting sugar daddies and younger women, is under investigation by Shanghai police after a surge in popularity in China.

At the time of writing, on China’s iOS App Store, Seeking Arrangement has surpassed Tencent’s WeChat and QQ to become the most downloaded social networking app. Among all free apps, it now ranks second, only behind the viral short-video sharing app Douyin (抖音).

Seeking Arrangement was founded in 2006 by American entrepreneur Brandon Wade, who once famously said that “love is a concept invented by poor people.” The company reportedly received a license to launch in China in 2015, but it remained under the radar until the app’s sudden recent spike in popularity.

Because Seeking Arrangement is explicitly intended to match up attractive women with men of financial means, it operates in a gray area in China where prostitution is illegal. No doubt aware of this issue, the company has used highly ambiguous wording in the Chinese version of its app and website.

On its Chinese website, sugar daddies are branded as successful men who are “talented, sophisticated, generous, gentlemanly, and decent,” while women are “attractive sweethearts” whose affection can be earned by pampering them.

But of course, how one gets a “sweetheart” is not explicitly addressed. The dating guide on the website says members are prohibited from paying for sex service and sex workers are banned from using the service, and also discourages any form of economic negotiations between members. However, to register, male users must state their net worth, annual income, and to what extent they are willing to “invest” in a potential date, categorized into six levels, from “random” to “ultra luxury.” But female members do not need to fill any financial information, merely details of age, education, and appearance etc.

It’s apparent that Chinese Seeking Arrangement is extra careful about not using terms like “sugar babies” or “sugar daddies” on any occasion, but its users are certainly not on the platform to look for healthy relationships. In a female user’s profile, she candidly says, “Im a Sugar baby who would like to meet my future Sugar Daddy, as everyone else on this website.” When approached by a reporter who faked as a potential sugar daddy seeking his sugar baby, a female user offered “10,000 yuan ($1,567) for 24 hours.”

After some Chinese media outlets exposed (in Chinese) its controversial service, Seeking Arrangement announced on its website that the Chinese version of it is independent from its Western predecessor and denounced the media coverage of it as biased and misleading. “The mission of Chinese Seeking Arrangement is to build a high-quality social space for high-level and high-class people,” it wrote.

But Chinese authorities are not convinced. The Global Times reported that Shanghai police have  launched an investigation into the company, and its WeChat public account has already been taken offline for “violating regulations,” even before the results of the investigation have been announced.