In one of the most digitized country in the world, tradition still prevails. And in China, less and less couple are getting married. In 2020, there was a 12% drop from 2019 in weddings, a rate which has fallen every year since 2013. This is due to a staggering gender imbalance in the Chinese population. Decades of the one-child policy has made a tremendous impact on the society, and Chinese people have slowly eliminated the desire for marriage and children. We have now identified a true marriage crisis in China.
In China, they call single educated women aged over twenty-seven years old, « Sheng-nu ». This literally means ‘leftover women’. The label is now an entire social status in the society. This is due to conservative beliefs that unmarried women past 30 are less desirable and committing a moral transgression. In the media, they are portrayed as lonely, desperate and flawed. This stigma has put tremendous pressure on many women to get married. But women are fighting back this derogatory term. These women don’t protest, they use their economic power to prove their worth and importance in the society. They try to break the stigma that they have a miserable life by highlighting the perks such as their freedom. The financial freedom especially helps them redefine their place in the Chinese society. They use their money to buy themselves things or purchase gifts for their parents. This way they positively transform their image in the eyes of their parents.
There is approximatively 35 million more single men than women. Mainly attributed to China’s one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, this has created a major gender imbalance over generations. This problem is even more alarming in the country side. Women often move away to marry men with better situation in more metropolitan areas. ‘Leftover men’ or « shengnan » are also called « guang gun ». This literally means bare branches, it refers to men who do not marry and thus do not add ‘branches’ to the family tree. And while leftover women willingly put off marriage to focus on their career, education and enjoy their status, leftover men in China are eager to get married. Chinese men face strong economic pressure as well as traditional family stress. They feel a huge guilt and fear to disappoint their parents by ending their lineage.
The government’s pressure
The government has noticed this marriage crisis and has been continually taking actions to stimulate dating. More recently, they have put in place rather agressive campaigns to remedy the situation of those leftover men and women. The local government of Xiangyin, a rural Hunan county even created a plan to urge women to stay and marry their local bachelor. They specify that leftover men’s situation are a ‘social issue’ that requires ‘urgent attention’.
“Education and guidance should be provided to make women born in rural regions feel passionate about their hometowns and willing to improve the environment they grew up in”
The government promised to simplify the marriage registration process. Through these actions, they hope to popularize a new wave of “modest” dating and marriage in rural China. In addition, over the past few years, campaigns have been surfacing to warn women against the dangers of becoming a leftover women and pressure them into marriage.
Despite the efforts of the government and the pressure from their peers, women in China are more and more confident about their legitimacy in the society. Women between 24 and 34 have become one of the largest contributors to the country’s growth. Indeed, women are responsible for 41% of China’s GDP, the largest proportion in the world. The Chinese market has noticed this trend and is capitalizing on the upsurge of single hood through the economy. In 2009, e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba invented the « Single’s Day ». This celebration is an anti-valentine’s day, whose goal is to empower single people. The celebration, held on 11/11, became the biggest shopping festival in the world, surpassing by far Black Friday. For women, the economic power is a way to have a voice. They get the chance to spent money on themselves and their loved ones, which transforms and redefines their single hood has something they can be proud of. They promote an image of leftover women as successful, financially independent, morally honorable, and upright citizens.
SK-II #changedestiny campaign
Japanese beauty and skincare company SK-II has started a campaign named #changedestiny in order to empower the ‘leftover’ women to own their power and their place. The movement, based on female empowerment, focuses on particular pressures faced by women in their daily lives. Through a series of videos and articles, they encourage women to fight these stereotypes and overcome the pressures. This year, SK-II has been focusing on athletes and olympians to star in their campaigns. They highlight the stories of six successful female athletes in China, with the first one being Chinese swimmer Liu Xiang. This campaign represents a long running success that keeps reinventing and refreshing itself all the while sending strong messages of empowerment and taking a social stance for women everywhere.
The marriage crisis in China highlights a major social imbalance that remains in the country. Years ago, the gender imbalance promoted the uprising of men through the one-child policy. Now however, women seem to have the upper hand. When the bachelor crisis pushes men in rural area to desperately get married, women enjoy a new found economical power and freedom and do see marriage as a priority. ‘Leftover women’ promote themselves as morally upright, economically independent, successful citizens. ‘Leftover men’ are powerless and under tremendous guilt and pressure. This showcases the contrast between the authority of Chinese tradition and culture against the global power of modernisation. And single women seem to be winning that battle.