China / Cover Story

With this click, I thee wed

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily) Updated: 2011-10-28 08:02

Online marriage game may be more than harmless romantic fantasy, Zhang Yuchen reports from Beijing.

Qian Yu spends hours talking to his bride, discussing furniture for their luxury duplex and colors for the living room walls. They have finally pinned down European Classic style, light purple for the walls and red for the carpet.

Since the summer holidays, Qian has seemed the normal happy newlywed, excited by the mere details of cooking and dining with his wife. But he is just 15 and his married life exists only in cyberspace.

Qian and his "bride" - he said he doesn't know her real name - are two among millions of Chinese teenagers and adults who indulge in virtual marriage. "Not legally binding, for romantics only," according to the home page at

They type on their keyboards to chat and smile into the camera above the computer monitor. In his case, Qian acts out his fantasy in his bedroom at home in Beijing.

"The Internet marriage itself is just a tool in terms of a game," an outlet for pressures and desires, said Sun Zhongxing, a sociology professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. "Most participants in virtual marriage are unmarried people, and singles are provided a chance to know more available candidates.

"But I am really concerned about the younger people involved in virtual weddings."

Qian and his cyberwife were once partners in an online game called 9 City, then moved into a private chat room. They called each other Honey or Sweetie for about a month before Qian - in the online persona of Cold Wind in a Deep Valley - proposed to Goodies of the Vanity.

Their wedding on Aug 4 - on the Internet, of course - attracted hundreds of participants in the same online community. The "guests" sent gifts of flowers, red packets and diamonds purchased with points earned in games - one for flowers, as many as five for jewelry.

With this click, I thee wed

Less studious

Qian is quite attentive in this relationship, a people person. In the real world, he tends to be quiet. He is in the second grade of middle school and has two or three friends.

"I noticed he has not been that into schooling since the beginning of this semester," his mother, Zhang Ping, said. "He speaks even less to us (his father and me) but he may linger online for quite a few hours and he keeps grinning foolishly at the monitor."

Recently, Zhang caught her son writing "Miss you ..." to his "wife" online, but she said nothing to Qian. She didn't want to panic him into thinking he would be punished.

"I do fret about his being so absorbed in a virtual relationship," she said.

"I think she worries too much," Qian said. "It's nothing real."

Emotional outlet

With this click, I thee wed

"Various examinations in and out of school related to an uncertain future put some teenagers under a great psychological burden, pushing them to escape the real world," said a researcher on teenage life who works for the Beijing municipal youth league and asked to remain anonymous. "The teens look for soul mates online to release their passion and get a break from the competition."

In addition, indulgence in a virtual world is an outlet for emotional frustration and shortcomings in communication in real life, said Huang Zimo, who provides hotline help to teenagers in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. "The only-child generation appears less capable of personal communication, and the virtual life seems to satisfy their inner loneliness."

And it comes without the responsibilities and moral regulations of real life, Huang said. "They never think of the (virtual) marriage as a commitment. They don't care about their partners' feelings, but do it all for their own emotions."

Qian finds communicating online much easier than offline. "I feel isolated, even surrounded by my classmates in school, and I cannot tell my friends all my thoughts," he said. "But in my game community, we talk far more than in the classroom. Hours pass without me noticing it.

"I found friends online to be closer."

Even if they don't tell the truth.

'No boundary'

Qian's profile in the game community, as Cold Wind in a Deep Valley, portrays him as handsome, 180 cm tall, 70 kg in weight, and without glasses. The real Qian is 70 cm tall, weighs no more than 60 kg and, because he is nearsighted, wears glasses.

His cyberwife depicts Goodies of the Vanity as gorgeous, with long legs, wide eyes and curling long hair.

Then there's the matter of age. Most of his friends online lied about that, Qian said. "They are much younger than they told me."

So is he. His profile says he is 18, a boost of three years. His wife's profile says she's 18, too; she's actually 17.

"We all make ourselves look good," Qian said. "It's natural online."

Qian's mother worries about that. "It seems there's no boundary online for the kids between truth and lies or between real and virtual. It is all confusion.

"I hope he can draw his attention back to what he should do," she said, "and I also expect he may develop a healthy connection with us real people."

Real consequences

Even early in China's Internet zeal, a report in China Women's News showed there had been 100,000 virtually married couples in China by 2004.

Metro Press, a Shanghai newspaper, reported in June 2006 that when a cybermarriage game named Love Apartment opened on, a million accounts were registered within the first month.

Huang estimates that 40 or 50 virtual marriage websites operate on China's mainland. alone claims 20 million registered IDs.

As personal computers and Internet connections at home have become must-haves - used by 390 million people as of late June, according to the China Internet Network Information Center - children have gained increasing access to online games.

A 2007 survey by China Report found that 70 percent of virtually married people online were under the age of 18.

"About one-third of my fellow classmates have been in the game of virtual marriage," Qian said. "It is really not a big deal."

But it can have consequences for real marriage. Last October, a couple in Jiangxi province was granted a divorce after the wife sued the husband, who had established a marriage online. The judge said the husband had "spiritually betrayed" his wife, according to China News.

"Marriage online counts as a way for people encountering marital problems in their life to seek comfort in virtual marriage," said Sun, the professor in Shanghai. The alternatives could be love affairs outside the real marriage.

Fun for now

Sun believes the casual bonding in a virtual relationship may negatively influence a teenager's attitudes toward real-life relationships. "They may cheat on their partners without knowing it is wrong, " he said.

"Young people in their teens may not distinguish good from bad," Sun said. "Once they step back into reality, they may find disappointment and feel hurt."

Some of Qian's online friends have already been in and out many virtual relationships, some at the same time.

Speaking of his own online marriage, Qian said, "I don't know how long this will last. I have fun now."

He has no plan to see his "wife" in the real world. "She is pretty, I know. I saw her face through the cyber camera."

He thought for a while. "I think it is only a game."

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