No More Blues for the Gay Men of China

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By Perdita Blinkhorn

Dating apps seem to be all the rage in today’s smart-phone centred world with everything from Tinder to Gindr, each claiming to hold the key to happiness be that through a chance at a long-term relationship or a one night stand. One new app that is taking China by storm is called “Blued” but the difference is that this app is playing matchmaker between gay men and has become the biggest gay dating app in the world.

Homosexuality is legal today in China but is still widely considered taboo and undesirable. Many users are taking advantage of the software that utilises GPS location technology to find other gay people near them with whom they can form friendships in an attempt to escape the isolating reality of being queer in the world’s most populous country. Of course, men are also using Blued to find love which might be one of the reasons it is so popular with an estimated 15 million yearly users; that’s two and a half times as many as Grindr.

The app’s creator, Ma Baoli, recently secured an investment worth £18.9 million which increased its total valuation to £189 million. However, the software could be doing just as much if not more for the gay-positive movement as it is for the economy with activists noting how the app has contributed to the positive self-image of homosexual men in China. This is understandable, as homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997 and classed by the government as a mental illness until 2001. The co-founder of the company who made the most recent investment in Blued, David Choa, emphasised the benefits of the private app, “‘People [in China] are more in the closet and less open about it [homosexuality], but the beautiful thing about the smartphone is that it’s a private device”.

Activists in China are also seeing the app as a great way for “spreading knowledge about the community,” in the words of Shanghai Pride celebrations organiser, Raymond Phang. Arguably one of the most exciting feature, for LGBT+ commentator at least, is the fact that the app possesses a feature which allows users to receive information about safe sex and AIDS.

The app has been so successful both financially and culturally it has announced plans to use investments for expansion, expressing the desire to open the app to users in more countries, as well as offering a premium pay service. Tinder, the hugely successful dating app in the UK and US, has recently announced similar future plans- does this mean Blued is now the one for the big established companies to watch? Either way, it seems love is in the app for the gay men of China and may Blued have every success in a still hostile environment.