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Connection lost: does technology make long distance dating harder?

Updated: 2016-08-08 11:22
By Angus McNeice in London (chinadaily.com.cn)

Connection lost: does technology make long distance dating harder?

A still image from artist Xiaowen Zhu's installation Distance Between on display at China Exchange in London's Chinatown.[Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Banished to opposite sides of the Milky Way, Chinese tradition has it that star-crossed lovers Zhinu and Niulang are only reunited once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh moon, when a flock of magpies forms a bridge across the "silver river."

The Qixi Festival — or Chinese Valentine's Day — commemorates the annual meeting of that folkloric couple this Tuesday. While lovers head out on romantic dates across China, many of the approximately 50 million Chinese who live abroad will have to make do with mobile apps to connect with partners back home.

London-based artist Xiaowen Zhu dated her partner from afar for several years and found that while technology makes long distance relationships more convenient, it often has unexpected consequences.

Zhu explores the complexity of 21st Century long distance relationships in a video installation at the China Exchange cultural center in central London, on display through Tuesday.

She interviewed 18 couples from Asia, Europe and South America and relayed their experiences through narrators, their voices overlaid, like an echo on Skype. Each performer was given permission to embellish on the script, leaving the audience to decide how much of what they are hearing is the truth

"Trust is the most important thing," says Sean, a Chinese management consultant from Changchun working in London. "You trust her to not do the things you imagine, you trust her to tell you what she's feeling emotionally and you do the same."

Sean's girlfriend lives 5,000 miles away in Beijing. They got together while studying in Bristol in 2009 and started long distance dating when she returned to China for work in 2011. For Sean, it's not been an easy experience.

"Personally, I wouldn't recommend it, it's pretty tough," he says. "If you do it, you have to know why you are doing it — for us it's because we are trying to start our own careers."

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