Male chauvinism, narrow and well-defined beauty ideals, and materialism converge in a single phenomenon in China called “leftover women” — urban, professional women in their late 20’s who still haven’t married, and, so conventional wisdom goes, might never. Despite a surplus of males due to China’s ongoing legacy of gendercide, these professionally successful women feel their chances for marriage at 30 are quite slim, and the pressure to settle can be intense.
Chinaâ€™s â€œLeftoverâ€ Women
26-year-old newlywed college graduate Li Fang (a pseudonym) explained to me over dinner why she had been in such a rush to marry:
If I hadnâ€™t gotten married now, I would still have to date for at least one or two years. Then I would already have passed the best child-bearing age and I would be a leftover woman.
More than 90 percent of men surveyed said women should marry before 27 to avoid becoming unwanted. The message to women: If you want to stand a snowballâ€™s chance in hell of ever getting married in this country, donâ€™t demand too much from your man.
We’ve had our own encounters with this and related aspects of Chinese society:
Chinaâ€™s Third Gender
â€œAâ€-class women are so far outside the traditional definition of â€œwomanâ€ and have such trouble finding husbands and realizing the female roles of wife and mother that our teachers joke that theyâ€™re like a third gender.
- On Love and being ‘smart enough’ (by Jessica!)
The guys also said that she should be â€œä¸€èˆ¬èªæ˜Žâ€ which means â€œsmart enoughâ€ or â€œordinarily smart.â€ Thereâ€™s a definite thread in Chinese culture that says that smart, clever, and independent women are threatening or something to be feared, so the guys tend not to want a girlfriend that might be smarter than themselves.
This one is also worth a look:
- The options of yuppie women in China: â€œstrong womanâ€, housewife or â€œfoxâ€
â€œShould I be a â€˜strong womanâ€™ (å¥³å¼ºäºº) and make money and have a career, maybe grow rich, but risk not finding a husband or having a child? Or should I marry and be a stay-at-home housewife (å…¨èŒå¤ªå¤ª), support my husband and educate my child? Or, should I be a â€˜foxâ€™ (ç‹ç‹¸ç²¾) â€” the kind of woman who marries a rich man, drives around in a BMW but has to put up with his concubines (å¦¾ï¼ŒäºŒå¥¶)?â€
Finding a mate is difficult when young people are scrambling for a job in a crowded and competitive market, so “marriage markets” (our term) are not uncommon. Since they’re full of bored parents and grandparents, they make great locations for students of Chinese to practice conversational Mandarin. We visited the one in Tianjin several times: