Jiayuan.com advertises itself as a serious dating platform.
Three months before her 30th birthday, Wendy Tang decided to try her luck in love. She wanted to find a suitable husband and signed up with a popular online agency, which advertised itself as the country's largest serious online dating service provider.
She paid around 300 yuan ($47) for a three-month package that allowed her to browse through the profiles and e-mail details of men listed with the agency. "Given my age, there's a lot of pressure from my family urging me to tie the knot. But as a non-local, my sources are quite limited. Because traditional matchmaking agencies are kind of awkward for me to visit, I chose the online agency, which, I believed, was very reputable and trustworthy," Tang told the Global Times.
Then, like a fairy story, just before her birthday, a man of the same age sent her an e-mail through the agency and invited her to dinner. Tang grabbed the opportunity and found the man attractive – he had graduated from a leading university in Shanghai and worked as a senior manager at a big company.
Things went smoothly for them and a month later, Tang was sharing with her closest friends the news that she had a boyfriend, who would possibly be her future husband. But, just after she had told her friends of her hopes, her dreams were shattered.
The man had been honest when he talked about his work but he had not been honest when he described himself as single. "Upon hearing that he used to work for a multinational auditing firm, my friend said she knew people working there and we could find out more about his personality. However, what we found out was that he was the father of a 2-year-old boy," Tang said.
Eventually Tang got the man to confess. He told her he was still married but was unhappy in that relationship and sought comfort with another woman.
Although very hurt, Tang thinks she is luckier than some dating website applicants, who have suffered both serious emotional damage and economic losses. "I learned that a girl in Jiangsu Province was cheated of 88,000 yuan by a man she met through a dating website. It's not just a problem with one particular online dating agency."
Online matchmaking services arrange offline activities for their registers. Photos: CFP
Deception and dating
Liu Qing, a registered user of Jiayuan.com, China's largest online dating agency, filed a lawsuit against the website in May this year, the same month the company became the first online dating agency in China to be listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange. The lawsuit is said to be the first of its kind in the country.
The 30-year-old suffered a fractured collarbone in a road accident during a trip organized by a man she had met through the agency. On the website the man said he was a chief financial officer for a State-owned power company. However, after the car accident, the man refused to pay her medical bills or offer any financial assistance. Liu discovered that the man had lied about his identity.
Although the website blacklisted the man, Liu said the agency did not do enough. Late last year, Liu established a chat room on the instant messaging network QQ for Jiayuan.com victims. "Many users of the website have similar experiences. And I later found several others had been deceived by the same man, who had assumed other identities, posing as a postgraduate of Peking University and a chief financial officer with State-owned companies," Liu Qing said.
Liu tried to persuade other women to join her in the lawsuit against Jiayuan.com. As she prepared her lawsuit, she spent more than 60,000 yuan in legal and notary fees and traveled to research her case. "I am devastated. I don't want to see others go through what I did."
However, during the hearing of the claim in August, Liu Qing was the only victim appearing in court. Her lawyer, Zhou Mi, told the Global Times there were three reasons why other victims did not attend. "First, they know that even if Jiayuan.com is found guilty of a breach of contract, they'll never be able to get back the hundreds of thousands of yuan they have lost. Second, it's a matter of saving face. No one wants to air their humiliations in public. Third, the legal procedure is very time-consuming. The others prefer to be onlookers to see how things go."
Liu Qing wanted the website agency to refund its 500 yuan fee, and pay 20,000 yuan for emotional damages and another 10,000 yuan for the financial losses she suffered during the relationship with that man. Last but not least, she wanted an apology from the agency.
But when the verdict was announced last month, the court rejected all of Liu's claims. The key issue for the case, according to lawyer Zhou Mi, was the nature of Jiayuan.com. Liu believed that it was operating as an online dating agency.
"As a dating agency, it should not fabricate rumors and spread these to its clients. Second, it's obliged to remove misinformation," Zhou said.
But in court Jiayuan.com argued that its legal identity was as an information-providing platform. When approached by the Global Times, the website responded that it had registered with the Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce in 2004 as an Internet information service provider. It provides services involving technological consulting, commodity information, as well as assistance with weddings and exhibitions.
"Jiayuan.com has been popular for people looking to get married. But it is essentially an information platform and not a matchmaking agency," said Ren Jianan, head of public relations at Jiayuan.com.
When users register with the website, they must sign an agreement, which includes the acknowledgement that "Jiayuan.com has applied all measures possible to check the authenticity of the photos, information and credentials that users upload but cannot guarantee their accuracy, legality and reliability."
The court recognized the website's status as an information platform and noted that the authenticity clause was printed in bold type, and therefore ruled against the woman.
Spokesman Ren Jianan told the Global Times that they accepted the court's verdict and said that the legal rights of Jiayuan.com had been properly protected.
However Zhou Mi, said the website's argument was ironic because it has been advertising itself as China's largest online matchmaker and the website's founder, Gong Haiyan, was one of the leading draftsmen for the National Standards on Matchmaking Services, which came into law on December 1, 2009.
Liu Qing was not happy with the outcome. She has lodged an appeal, which was accepted by the court earlier this month. But her lawyer Zhou Mi is not confident about this. "There's no law or national regulation standardizing the practice of Internet matchmaking websites. The verdict depends on the judge."