Honors Thesis Spotlight: The Portrayal of Dating Culture in China and the U.S. through Reality Dating Shows

Since the introduction of reality TV to America in the early 1970s, television hasn’t been quite the same regarding the tumultuous yet unique presence it brings to living rooms. To be more specific, a subgenre of reality television that has proven itself to be significant is reality dating shows. Within the past decade, the popularity of reality dating shows has only grown. For the purposes of the researcher Marion C. Harper’s thesis, she focuses on two distinctly popular reality dating shows in their respective countries: The Bachelor in the U.S, and If You Are The One (IYATO) in China. Like The Bachelor, a sensational dating franchise in the US, If You Are The One has often been deemed as the Chinese equivalent of The Bachelor. There are specific social factors that have perpetuated differences in Chinese and American dating markets that manifest on these reality dating shows.

 According to the researcher, “This thesis analyzes how two competitive reality television shows, The Bachelor (US) and IYATO (China), (1) embody different dating cultures, (2) convey messages about gender to audiences, and (3) illustrate what cultural factors influence the structure and representation of love and relationships within these particular types of shows” (5).

 The United States has proven to be significantly more progressive and less restrictive concerning marriage and dating. Contrastly, while China has proven to have loosened the cultural expectations for heterosexual marriage, they still exist. The results of one study found that Chinese men and women place an increased value on good financial prospects and decreased value on virginity when looking for a partner compared to the prior 25 years. It is essential to understand that there are cultural shifts in what is valued in a romantic partner that differentiate the romantic approaches used in certain countries.

One influential difference between China and the United States in dating patterns is the one-child policy instituted in China in 1980 to limit population growth. This one-child policy led to an increased abortion rate of female fetuses, which continues to affect the female to male ratio imbalance in China. This has led increased pressure on men to find a wife as competition continues to heighten. Additionally, in the US, parental approval of partners is less important in a relationship than it is in China. This is another phenomenon that correlates to differences in cultural expectations.

Harper’s thesis finds that IYATO contestants have very different expectations than contestants on The Bachelor. IYATO contestants enter with the hope to secure a date and not much else. They do not mention any of their ambitions to find a husband or father for their future children, nor do they go on the show looking for publicity to help their career or business. Both the men and women are visibly reserved and try to limit any physical affection. However, the contestants on The Bachelor are quite the opposite. The show seems to thrive on physical affection wherethe contestants are frequently physically affectionate with the male lead. IYATO contestants also tend to credit their reason for being on the show to past failed relationships, while contestants on The Bachelor credit their reason to an inability to find the “right man.”

The Bachelor and IYATO are dating shows with the common goal to find a partner. However, what the contestants are looking for in a partner and the process to find the right person differ significantly. In the researcher’s discussion, they claim that China still retains more traditional elements of their dating culture such as parental influence in matchmaking, conservatism in public affection, and the importance of collectivism (cohesiveness among individuals). Whereas in America, freedom is placed above other values and people tend to make more individualistic decisions about their love lives. These basic cultural traits also influenced what qualities the contestants were looking for in a partner.

“The results showed differences in the contestant’s attitudes and expectations, physical and verbal interactions, the involvement of parents in the dating process, and what factors were valued when looking for a partner…This shows that despite increasing globalization, countries can still retain specific cultural traits,” (28).

Marion Harper is a graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. This post was based on Marion’s honors thesis, written by COSSPP Blog Intern, Jillian Kaplan.

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