Young Chinese Search for Ideal Dads Online

“Electronic Dads” and “Other People’s Dads” are being celebrated as influencers by young people looking for father figures

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6:17 PM HKT, Thu March 7, 2024 2 mins read

We might expect influencers to be teens or twentysomethings, but an unexpected demographic is gaining a following on Chinese social media: middle-aged dads.

Recently several influencers have garnered a high numbers of views and likes through documenting, or themselves being, ideal father figures who prioritize their children’s well-being and respect their privacy. Fathers who are especially thoughtful and caring towards their daughters are proving particularly popular. These influencers engage with their audience by showcasing various aspects of caring fatherhood, from seeking skincare advice for their children, to supporting their life decisions.

Zou from Changsha, Hunan province, is one of these “ideal fathers.”

Every weekend, Zou dedicates his free time to cooking for his 29-year-old daughter, who lives in the same city as him. Occupied by work, his daughter always ends up ordering delivery food instead of preparing her own meals. To help his daughter maintain a healthy diet, Zou prepares dishes in advance, and drops off pre-made dishes — from beef brisket with tomatoes and potatoes, to laziji (spicy fried chicken) — at her place.

Zou's videos showcasing his pre-made meals for his daughter have garnered over 3.5 million views, and have sparked debate online. Some criticize Zou for spoiling his daughter, while others praise his dedication, noting that his actions represent the epitome of a loving parent. As one viewer commented on Weibo, “These must be the only irresistible pre-cooked meals.”

In an interview with Shanhai Shipin, Zou explained his motivations, stating, “My daughter has a demanding job, she’s not very healthy, and she always eats delivery. So I started preparing meals for her... Even when she turns 40 or 50 years old, she’ll still be my child, and deserves to have a healthy diet as well as unconditional love from her parents.”

A viral post about Zou. Screenshot via Weibo.

An analogous influencer also gained popularity on Xiaohongshu recently.

An account named Shiyue Ershiqi Ri [October 27th], apparently operated by a father, made posts soliciting skincare recommendations for his daughter and advocating that parents respect their children’s life decisions regarding marriage. The account's thoughtful and loving approach towards his daughter earned him the nickname “E-Dad,” (电子爹, diànzǐ diē, literally electronic dad).

However, shortly after gaining viral fame, the account was suddenly deleted, leaving followers confused and unsettled.

One follower, Buhu Huhu, expressed their distress at the disappearance of their “E-Dad,” asking for more information and wondering about the unexpected turn of events. “I was just reading my E-Dad's post, and suddenly their account is gone. Does anyone know what’s going on all of sudden? Ahhhhh, my E-Dad!“

The query post garnered over 5,800 likes and sparked speculation from netizens, with some pointing out the possibility that the entire persona of the “E-Dad” might have been a fabrication by a daughter longing for affectionate parental love.

Positing that the account was a hoax, the user Sesame Bunny (芝麻馅兔团) commented, “Regardless of the authenticity of the situation, I believe the young girl [behind the account] is incredibly kindhearted. She appears to be striving to comfort herself while also soothing those of us who are grappling with regrets, doubts, fears, love, and hatred within the confines of a traditional Chinese family.”

“There’s a genuine warmth in her words, much like that of a normal and loving fairytale father. My heartfelt wish is for everything to turn out well for her.”

The yearning for an ideal father figure is not coincidental. Many young women online in China seem to have a contested relationship with their fathers.

Last December, the hashtag “Don’t Marry My Dad” went viral.

In a widely circulated Douyin video, interviewees were asked what they would tell their mothers if they could time travel. Many young people gave a shocking answer: that they would ask their mothers to “Find a better husband” and tell her “Don’t marry my dad.”

A similar video, filmed in Ma’anshan, Anhui province. Screenshot via Douyin.

Weibo user Daolan Tuya (岛兰图娅) commented, “After re-watching Everything Everywhere All at Once, I wish in a parallel universe, my mom could have been a female celebrity, a chef, a secretary, or anything else, just not married to my dad."

A Cornell University doctoral dissertation reveals that, on average, Chinese women undertake 80% of the housework and childcare responsibilities, while the presence of fathers in the household can be largely invisible.

Banner image via Pexels.

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