Prove your humanity

Photo buddies? Yep, a new buddy system has caught the roving eye of young Chinese travelers. According to Chinese news portal on August 19, a new trend called “offline photography” (线下陪拍| xiànxià péi pāi in Chinese) or “photo buddies” is taking off among young Chinese trippers. A trifecta of questions remains, namely: What, where and… why?!

photo buddies

A post on Chinese lifestyle guru slash e-commerce platform 小红书 (xiǎohóngshū| Little Red Book) advertising the services of a “photo buddy” based in Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong Province. The promo includes the phone they’ll be using, the option to arrange for pro makeup services, the option to discuss picture vibes in advance, the fees they’ll be charging and so the list unfolds.

While some of China’s top theme parks, such as Universal Resort Beijing and Disneyland Shanghai, have banned unauthorized professional photographers, a trend called “photo buddies” has emerged among young Chinese travelers.

A photo buddy is a photographer, usually a local enthusiast or a photography student, who can take better photos than the average novice, a travel partner with the potential to become a friend and often a tour guide who knows the area and can offer useful travel tips. All rolled into one.

This newfangled service is rooted in the fusion of two broader trends. One is dazi culture, which refers to the way China’s Gen Z connects with random strangers who share their hobbies and interests on social media. The other is minority dress photography, or “ethnic travel shoots.”

Let’s get clicking!


Dazi Culture: From Fitness and Foodies to Gossip and Travel… Chinese Gen Zs Seek Companions

The Dazi Deets

China’s Gen Zs, and some millennials, are always looking for new ways to connect with others and share their hobbies. Today, they’re doing so through online dazi socializing, or 搭子社交 (dāzi shèjiāo|“socialize with a partner”), where they can link up with partners who share their interests and hobbies.

On an ironic side note: More than 60 percent of young people in China find it difficult to socialize with others, mostly finding themselves at a loss when meeting people offline, a recent survey has concluded. China Youth Daily interviewed 2,000 people aged 18 to 35, 64 percent of whom said they feel “stuck” or freeze during social interactions.

Dazi partners can range from foodie to fitness buddies to gossip cronies (seriously) to travel partners to mahjong allies to… You name it, they’re out there. Many Gen Zs seek to find different like-minded peers to pursue shared interests rather than develop lasting friendships with.

photo buddies

A Little Red Book user showcases the pictures she had taken around central Beijing’s Drum ‘n Bell Towers area and wonders… One hour with a photo buddy: Worth it?

For many consumers, Chinese lifestyle guru slash e-commerce platform 小红书 (xiǎohóngshū| Little Red Book) is one of the top sites for tips on topics like beauty, fashion, travel, food and education. For others, the platform is a perfect place to post about one’s life experiences. And for a growing number of young people, the platform has evolved into something more — it is a place to look not for friends, but for dazi.

Unlike friendships, the concept of dazi is centered on temporary, almost superficial, companionship. The idea is simple—random individuals come together to partake in an activity they all enjoy. Very birds of a feather flock together. The objective is not to get to know one another better. The development of a friendship is nothing more than an added bonus, according to state media outlet China Daily. Whatever floats your boat, we suppose.

On an Unsolicited Educational Note
Little Red Book in late August conducted a comprehensive investigation of all postings related to the search for travel companions and identified those suspected of…. containing pornographic content. The platform mentioned in a recent post it would “take strict action against violators in accordance with laws and regulations once problematic content is confirmed.” The platform’s response came after some netizens accused a number of bloggers of engaging in sexual “hookups” under the guise of regular dazi posts claiming to seek “travel companions.”

“Travel expenses for the companion fully covered” has reportedly become a hidden code in certain postings, with the line “only for girls” usually emphasized. Some users said that when they searched for travel companions on Little Red Book, they were asked if they seeking a “green companion” and were subsequently told that “it would be all expenses paid–for girls,” essentially constituting a cover for soliciting prostitution.

Hashtag “Little Red Book travel partner seeking suspected of containing porn messages” went trending on China’s popular microblogging platform Sina Weibo, racking up more than 280 million views and comments as of 6PM (Beijing time) on September 30.


Minority Dress Photography: China’s Trendy Industry Packing a Punch

Making Your Mark

The other root of China’s budding photo buddies trend is minority dress photography, or “ethnic travel shoots.” Quite a mouthful but a must-have on the China Fashion menu given it’s a main course Chinese (Gen-Z) travelers have developed a taste for. Tourists dressed to impress in traditional local clothing are hamming it up for the camera all over the Middle Kingdom.

From photography and fashion studios specializing in taking traditional Uyghur portraits at locations within Kashgar’s ancient walls, in Xinjiang  Uyghur Autonomous Region, to tourists in Tibet Autonomous Region’s Lhasa striking a pose between pilgrims performing the kora, a form of pilgrimage or meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, that includes circumambulations around temples and repeated prostrations at holy sites.

“It’s just a unique and fun thing to do; you pay roughly RMB 800 RMB (USD 113) to get your makeup and hair done, get help choosing a traditional local outfit and accessories that are right for you and then get your pics taken,” a woman in her early twenties from south China’s Guangdong Province told yours truly as she was putting on a heavy oversized yak wool coat inside a narrow alley off the main street—harboring 13 of her peers and their photographers, we should add.

Little Red Book posts related to the hashtag “what to prepare as a photo buddy?” Budding as it may be, the trend still comes with a few question marks. One major concern is how scammers can easily pose as photo buddies.

Circling back to the original photo buddies topic here, many issues remain to be addressed. Additional fees may be charged; scammers can easily pose as photo buddies; the quality of the final images cannot be guaranteed; and so on. concluded “rules and standards should be established to ensure the healthy growth of this emerging trend.”

Strike a pose.

















Elsbeth van Paridon
Follow me