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 China's 'leftover women', unmarried at 27

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Tổng số bài gửi : 139
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Bài gửiTiêu đề: China's 'leftover women', unmarried at 27    Wed Feb 20, 2013 8:26 pm

Over 27? Unmarried?
Female? In China, you could be labelled a "leftover woman" by the state -
but some professional Chinese women these days are happy being single.

Huang Yuanyuan is working late at her job in a Beijing radio
newsroom. She's also stressing out about the fact that the next day,
she'll turn 29.

"Scary. I'm one year older," she says. "I'm nervous."


"Because I'm still single. I have no boyfriend. I'm under big pressure to get married."

Huang is a confident, personable young woman with a good
salary, her own apartment, an MA from one of China's top universities,
and a wealth of friends.

Still, she knows that these days, single, urban, educated
women like her in China are called "sheng nu" or "leftover women" - and
it stings.

Who are you calling "leftover"? Huang Yuanyuan (front) and her colleague Wang Tingting

She feels pressure from her friends and her family, and the message gets hammered in by China's state-run media too.

Even the website of the government's supposedly feminist
All-China Women's Federation featured articles about "leftover women" -
until enough women complained.

State-run media started using the term "sheng nu" in 2007.
The same year the government warned that China's gender imbalance -
caused by selective abortions because of the one-child policy - was a
serious problem.

The National Bureau of Statistics says there are now about 20 million more men under 30 than women under 30.

"Ever since 2007, the state media have aggressively
disseminated this term in surveys, and news reports, and columns, and
cartoons and pictures, basically stigmatising educated women over the
age of 27 or 30 who are still single," says Leta Hong-Fincher, an
American doing a sociology PhD at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Census figures for China show that around one in five women aged 25-29 is unmarried.

The proportion of unmarried men that age is higher - over a
third. But that doesn't mean they will easily match up, since Chinese
men tend to "marry down", both in terms of age and educational
"There is an opinion that A-quality guys will
find B-quality women, B-quality guys will find C-quality women, and
C-quality men will find D-quality women," says Huang Yuanyuan. "The
people left are A-quality women and D-quality men. So if you are a
leftover woman, you are A-quality."

But it's the "A-quality" of intelligent and educated women
that the government most wants to procreate, according to Leta
Hong-Fincher. She cites a statement on population put out by the State
Council - China's cabinet - in 2007.

"It said China faced unprecedented population pressures, and
that the overall quality of the population is too low, so the country
has to upgrade the quality of the population."

Some local governments in China have taken to organising
matchmaking events, where educated young women can meet eligible

The goal is not only to improve the gene pool, believes
Fincher, but to get as many men paired off and tied down in marriage as
possible - to reduce, as far as possible, the army of restless, single
men who could cause social havoc.

But the tendency to look down on women of a certain age who
aren't married isn't exclusively an attitude promoted by the government.

Continue reading the main story

Percentage of women aged 25-29 who are single%UKJapanUSChinaIndia0255075100Source: UN, World Marriage Data 2012

Chen (not her real name), who works for an investment consulting company, knows this all too well.

She's single and enjoying life in Beijing, far away from
parents in a conservative southern city who, she says, are ashamed that
they have an unmarried 38-year-old daughter.

"They don't want to take me with them to gatherings, because
they don't want others to know they have a daughter so old but still not
married," she says.

Continue reading the main story The best time to get married is...

  • Nine out of 10 men in China think women should get married before 27
  • Sixty per cent say the ideal time is 25-27
  • One per cent believe the best age for a woman to get married is 31-35
Source: 2010 National Marriage Survey

"They're afraid their friends and
neighbours will regard me as abnormal. And my parents would also feel
they were totally losing face, when their friends all have grandchildren

Chen's parents have tried setting her up on blind dates. At
one point her father threatened to disown her if she wasn't married
before the end of the year.

Now they say if she's not going to find a man, she should come back home and live with them.

Chen knows what she wants - someone who is "honest and responsible", and good company, or no-one at all.

Meanwhile, the state-run media keep up a barrage of messages aimed at just this sort of "picky" educated woman.

"Pretty girls do not need a lot of education to marry into a
rich and powerful family. But girls with an average or ugly appearance
will find it difficult," reads an excerpt from an article titled,
Leftover Women Do Not Deserve Our Sympathy, posted on the website of the
All-China Federation of Women in March 2011.

It continues: "These girls hope to further their education
in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don't
realise that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time
they get their MA or PhD, they are already old - like yellowed pearls."


Continue reading the main story Flashback: America's 'leftover women' furore

In the US, women of a certain age might remember a 1986
Newsweek article that said women who weren't married by 40 had a better
chance of being killed by a terrorist than of finding a husband.

It created a wave of anxiety in educated, professional women
at the time, and was widely quoted - e.g. in the film Sleepless in

Newsweek eventually admitted it was wrong, and a follow-up study found that two-thirds of the single, college-educated American women who were 40 in 1986 had married by 2010.

The All-China Federation of Women
used to have more than 15 articles on its website on the subject of
"leftover women" - offering tips on how to stand out from a crowd,
matchmaking advice, and even a psychological analysis of why a woman
would want to marry late.

In the last few months, it has dropped the term from its
website, and now refers to "old" unmarried women (which it classes as
over 27, or sometimes over 30), but the expression remains widely used

"It's caught on like a fad, but it belittles older, unmarried
women - so the media should stop using this term, and should instead
respect women's human rights," says Fan Aiguo, secretary general of the
China Association of Marriage and Family Studies, an independent group
that is part of the All-China Federation of Women.

China has a long tradition of women marrying young.

But perhaps it's a little odd to be calling educated Chinese women "leftover" at 27 or 30?

The age of marriage has been rising, as it often does in places where women become more educated.

In 1950, the average age for urban Chinese women to marry for
the first time was just under 20. By the 1980s it was 25, and now
it's... about 27.

A 29-year-old marketing executive, who asks to go by the
English name she sometimes uses, Elissa, says being single at her age
isn't half bad.

"Living alone, I can do whatever I like. I can hang out with my
good friends whenever I like," she says. "I love my job, and I can do a
lot of stuff all by myself - like reading, like going to theatres.

"I have many single friends around me, so we can spend a lot of time together."

Sure, she says, during a hurried lunch break, her parents
would like her to find someone, and she has gone on a few blind dates,
for their sake. But, she says, they've been a "disaster".

"I didn't do these things because I wanted to, but because my
parents wanted it, and I wanted them to stop worrying. But I don't
believe in the blind dates. How can you get to know a person in this

Elissa says she'd love to meet the right man, but it will
happen when it happens. Meanwhile, life is good - and she has to get
back to work.

Mary Kay Magistad was reporting for The World - a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH
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