With this click, I will thee wed

Updated: 2011-10-28 08:02

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)

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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 ipart.com, a million accounts were registered within the first month.

Huang estimates that 40 or 50 virtual marriage websites operate on China's mainland. Ipart.com 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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