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Op-Ed: “Chinese People Unwilling to Get Married” – What BBC Forgot To Mention

A recent BBC article misses one incredibly important aspect of marriage in China, Ryan Myers says.

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Fewer people are tying the knot in China, the New York Times recently reported. The news triggered the hashtag “Chinese People Unwilling to Get Married” on Chinese social media. BBC News covered and contextualized the discussion in a recent article. But the article misses one incredibly important aspect of marriage in China, What’s on Weibo’s Ryan Myers says.

BBC News recently published an article titled “Chinese web users discuss hitches to getting married“, discussing a trend on Chinese social media hashtagged “Chinese People Unwilling To Get Married” (#中国人不愿结婚#).

The article by Kerry Allen discusses how Chinese social media users have been expressing doubts about the institution of marriage. The trend was triggered by a New York Times article published on September 11, that was subsequently picked up by Chinese media.

 

“Although the article has valid points, there is one major issue missing from this discussion.”

 

The original New York Times article states that Chinese people are increasingly disinclined to get married. Because of higher education and better-paid jobs, the financial incentive to get married allegedly is less important now than it was in the past.

According to the BBC, many Chinese social media users have expressed why they no longer believe in marriage. “The institution is not as relevant as it once was”, “marriage is not a necessity”, or “the cost of marriage is too high”, are amongst the reasons mentioned.

BBC contextualizes the comments by highlighting that China’s ageing population and former one-child-policy have led to an age and gender gap that leaves many men unable to find a partner.1

The article also mentions changing attitudes among young women, as there are many who want to pursue higher education and a career rather than to be financially dependent on a partner.

Although the article has valid points, there is one major issue missing from this discussion. The BBC stresses that there is not as much incentive to get married anymore in China, with people no longer “believing” in marriage, but they do not mention the fact that it is nearly impossible to register a newborn baby without a marriage certificate – which is a major reason for people to get married anyway.

In other words: the BBC article suggests that lowered marriage numbers in China linked to a general “unwillingness” to get married, while in fact people still marry (i.a. for the sake of having babies) despite their “changing attitudes” about the institution of marriage.

 

“Birthing a child out of wedlock is next to unheard of in China.”

 

The People’s Republic of China requires couples to be legally married if they want to have a child. This is related to the Chinese hukou or ‘household registration’ system. A person’s hukou basically is their geographic citizenship within China. One’s hukou is directly linked to one’s parents, city, town, and province, and determines almost all aspects of social welfare, including how much one pays to buy housing in their city of residence and the cost of education.

People without a hukou are called ‘heihu’, which translates directly to ‘black resident’. A heihu cannot apply for a national ID, and thus cannot have a mobile phone account, a bank account, or a health insurance policy, and cannot buy train or plane tickets legally.

Clearly, it is impossible to lead a normal life in China without hukou, and since a marriage license is required for parents to register their children in the system, birthing a child out of wedlock is next to unheard of in China.

 

“Any media that does not look at the policies behind negative emotions expressed via social media will not have a complete understanding of the situation in China.”

 

While many men and women in China express negative or ambivalent attitudes towards marriage and the accompanying social pressure to tie the knot, if these people truly wish to remain single, or unmarried in any other context, they are automatically forgoing the right to have a child. While many people complain about marriage as an institution, very few in China actually follow through on their gripes.

Perhaps the reason that people indeed complain, saying they do not wish to marry or they have negative feelings about the institution, stems from a deeper, often subconscious trend to self-censor. In a country where directly criticising government policies can have serious repercussions, it is much easier and safer to express views and opinions as feelings. Instead of criticising government policies on carbon emissions, for example, netizens are likely to talk about how depressing the grey air is.2

Complaining about China’s marriage system, or saying ‘the government should not let us get married to have children’, is something less likely to be found trending on Chinese social media.

Because of this indirect style of expressing grievances, any media that does not look at the policies behind negative emotions expressed via Chinese social media will not have a complete understanding of the situation in China, and indeed might be even so nearsighted as not to grasp a larger, more pertinent trend.

 

“Where are all those women who supposedly do not want to get married?”

 

It is, however, true that marriage rates have been declining in China. As the Chinese population is getting increasingly old, with a surplus of men on the lower end of the social scale, and a large number of educated and ambitious (“leftover”) women on the higher end of the social scale, and people getting married at a later age, it is not surprising that marriage registrations in China have been falling for the last few years.

Looking on Weibo, I found that there also were many netizens with other points of view than those expressed in the BBC article. One TV presenter wrote: “Chinese people unwilling to get married – these Americans are talking nonsense. What we as Chinese value most in life is family. But because the costs to get married and start a family are now too high, many young people are forced to work hard first. But to “start a family and make a career” (成家立业) makes sense. The family is our driving force and natural harbor. Making a career is a goal and a hope.”

Others also said: “This news is nonsense. This is one big generalisation. Where are all those women who supposedly do not want to get married? It’s not that they do not want to get married, it’s that they cannot find the right person!”

By Ryan Myers

1 Since it is mostly those at the lower end of the social ladder who stay behind, they end up in a negative spiral: they are already at a disadvantage for statistically not being able to find a wife, but because of their economic situation, they also cannot afford to buy a home for his potential partner – making them even less popular on the marriage market.

2 This type of expression may, at least with regards to social harmony, have a positive affect. After all, China has experienced much less social unrest in recent years than most western countries.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Ryan Myers is a teacher and Chinese language & culture specialist who has been based in Beijing for over a decade. Myers conducts professional workshops throughout China for Chinese audiences, ranging from professors in university to young students, and is specialized in cross-cultural teaching.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Robin Dahling

    September 24, 2016 at 9:04 am

    Ryan,

    I find your second footnote rather interesting in light of the context of your article and your explanation of the differences between Chinese and Western cultures. More specifically, I find it interesting to say that China has experienced much less social unrest in recent years than most Western countries; are you so sure of that?

    I recall many different instances of social unrest, ranging from Wukan village to the Occupy movement in Hong Kong to petitions and protests against paraxalyne plants in various cities, to attempts to raise awareness of women’s issues on public transit (which led to the arrest of the Feminist Five) and criticism of the 2015 Chunwan and its obvious sexism/chauvinism, which quickly became censored by social media watchdogs. These are a just a few examples where people were vocal about the issues, and almost all of these in the past few years – this does not include food scandals, “Watch Brother”, issues in Xinjiang or Tibet, forced evictions, or many other similar issues that would result in what we could call (whether local or national) “unrest.”

    My point is that a lot of the social unrest/disharmony is quietly swept under the carpet or ignored by media based on the government’s desire to maintain the appearance of social harmony (call it mianzi writ large) or to keep people from actively thinking about it or speaking about it in large forums. Within the Chinese context though, there is plenty of unrest, equal to many Western countries – just not as publicized.

  2. Choudoufu

    October 14, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    ‘the government should not let us get married to have children’
    I think you mean ‘make’ instead of ‘let.’ Were you translating from Chinese (让)?

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China and Covid19

Xi’an Outbreak Largely Under Control, But Weibo is Grieving the Death of an Unborn Baby

On the 15th day of lockdown, Xi’an has largely brought the Covid19 outbreak under control, but at what cost?

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“Are we really fighting this epidemic to save lives?”, some wonder after Xi’an enters its 16th day of a very strict and sometimes messy lockdown. The story of a pregnant woman having a miscarriage in front of the hospital gate has brought the public’s anger to a boiling point.

On January 4th at around 4.30 pm, a Weibo user nicknamed ‘Don’t Make It Rain Ok’ posted a heartbreaking story on social media about her pregnant aunt, who lost her baby on January 1st when she did not receive medical care in time and was left waiting outside of the hospital. It was one among multiple stories showcasing the struggles faced by thousands of citizens during the Xi’an lockdown, the biggest one in China since Wuhan was shut down in 2020.

While the story about the pregnant woman was top trending on Weibo on Wednesday and Thursday, the Xi’an city government declared that the Covid19 situation in the city of 13 million inhabitants was reaching the phase of “zero in society” (“社会面清零”), meaning that the outbreak was largely contained in the city’s main communities after two weeks of lockdown, during which over 42,000 people were quarantined and brought to other locations.

But rather than cheers of joy, Weibo was dominated by sad stories of people whose lives have been seriously impacted by the restrictions and hurdles they face in times of a lockdown that was mismanaged by local authorities, according to many.

The woman losing her unborn baby because of severely delayed emergency services struck a chord with a lot of netizens. This is a translation of the original post, which was removed from social media without given reason on January 6:

My aunt said on January 1st 2022 at around 7:00 pm that her stomach hurt, so she called 120 [emergency telephone number]. But 120 was constantly busy and there was no way to get through. Only when she called 110 [police] she was taken to Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital (高新医院). After all this, it was already past 8 pm before she arrived, but she eventually was at the entrance and still wasn’t allowed to get in, the delay lasting until after 10 pm – she was told her nucleic acid [test] had exceeded the four-hour time frame. My aunt sat down at the entrance for a while, and because the delay was lasting so long, she was starting to bleed. I saw the video sent by my aunt’s husband, seeing my aunt struggling to support her body with both hands sitting on the chair, blood flowing down the chair and down her pants, the floor was full of blood! Also because of the excessive bleeding, the hospital staff saw it really wasn’t going well and only then was she admitted and taken into the surgery room. As a result of the untimely medical treatment, my aunt had a miscarriage after carrying the baby for eight months. At eight months, the baby died in the womb without a pulse because of wasted time. Originally I was thinking of telling this story on another platform, but I actually just saw in my Moments [WeChat timeline] that a friend posted a screenshot of another story told by someone and I discovered we are not the only ones to go through something like this at this hospital. I just wept. My aunt also has an 11-year old son who is alone by himself, looking after himself, he still doesn’t know what happened to my aunt – he just knows her belly hurt.”

The incident sparked outrage on social media, where one hashtag dedicated to the topic received 780 million views on Thursday alone (#西安孕妇流产事件相关责任人被处理#) after it was publicly announced that the hospital’s general manager Fu Yuhui (范郁会) would be suspended and that the staff responsible for the incident at the outpatient department were fired.

The hospital was ordered to publicly apologize for the incident, and the local Health Commission director also made an apology.

But the apologies did not seem to reduce the anger many expressed online.

“Are we fighting the epidemic to save lives?”, one popular blogger wondered in an article dedicated to the incident (“西安孕妇医院门口流产:抗疫,是为了救命啊“) published on January 6th. The author argues that the ultimate purpose of China’s epidemic prevention and control is to save lives and that a hospital and its staff should do everything in their power to save people’s lives rather than letting them suffer outside of their door with the excuse of ‘epidemic prevention and control.’ In the end, a person’s life is more important than their Health Code and the last time they did a Covid test.

The story of the miscarriage was not the only one going viral these days relating to people not being able to get the medical help they need. One story to go viral on January 3rd was that of one Xi’an resident (@太阳花花花00000) reaching out for help via social media platform Xiaohongshu because her father suffered from chest pains and they could not get through to emergency telephone lines fast enough. The original poster later updated their post to share that he had passed away.

The man’s daughter later clarified in the media that her father was refused access to medical services at multiple hospitals before he also encountered issues at Gaoxin Hospital where he did receive treatment at 10pm – an astonishing eight hours after reaching out to emergency services. He reportedly passed away due to the severe delay in this treatment (#西安网友称父亲被多家医院拒诊后离世#).

Then there was another pregnant woman (@A有雨有晴天) who allegedly suffered a miscarriage after being refused to be taken to the hospital (#西安又一孕妇流产 警察护送被拒诊#). She came out with her story on January 5th, but it happened on December 29th. The woman claims that she sought help but that various hospitals refused to take her in during the extreme lockdown circumstances.

On January 5th and 6th, the death of a 39-year-old man also sparked online anger. According to online reports, the man could not get through to emergency services on December 31st while suffering from severe chest pains. He was refused to be taken in by two hospitals because he supposedly did not have a current negative Covid19 test result. He died shortly after being taken in by a third hospital. A hashtag dedicated to the incident received over 150 million views on January 6 (#西安一男子连续被3家医院拒诊最终猝死#).

“Help the helpless!”, some on Weibo wrote: “What would you do if these were your loved ones?!”

“How many people have passed away due to this kind of ‘prevention and control’?”, other commenters wondered: “What is wrong with the Xi’an authorities?”

Besides the staff fired at the Gaoxin Hospital, the Municipal Discipline Inspection Commission reportedly also gave official warnings to the local deputy secretary and Xi’an Emergency Center director Li Qiang (李强) and local Health Commission director Liu Shunzhi (刘顺智) for not properly fulfilling their duties regarding emergency work during the lockdown.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

Will Weibo Become 30% State-Media Owned?

Alibaba is allegedly ready to give up its Weibo shares to SMG.

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Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing to sell its 30% stake in social media platform Weibo. According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba is negotiating with the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

News about Alibaba planning to sell all of its Weibo shares has triggered some online discussions on the Chinese social media platform. Bloomberg was the first to report that the Chinese e-commerce and IT enterprise is talking to the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to sell all of its 30% stake in Weibo.

According to Bloomberg, the move relates to regulators wanting to curb the influence of Chinese tech giants in the media sphere. The Bloomberg article claims that SMG, as one of China’s largest state-owned media and cultural conglomerates, stands a higher chance of gaining the approval of Chinese authorities than a private acquirer.

SMG is a large state-owned enterprise with over a dozen TV and radio stations, many newspapers and magazines, various drama & film production and distribution businesses, and more. The company has a major media influence, not only in Shanghai but throughout the country.

According to Weibo’s 2020 annual reports, New Wave held a 45% stake in Weibo, followed by Alibaba with its 30%. New Wave is the holding company by Weibo chairman Charles Chao.

“Weibo will change into another channel for SMG,” some Weibo users predict, with others also sharing their fear that Weibo would become more and more like a platform for official media (“微博现在越来越官方化”).

“This would be a big milestone in the crumbling of Alibaba’s media empire,” another commenter wrote. Some wonder if the developments have more to do with Weibo as a platform, or with Alibaba and its media influence.

In March of 2021, the Wall Street Journal already reported that the Chinese government asked the Alibaba Group to dispose of its media assets due to concerns over the company’s influence in the sensitive media sphere.

“When Alibaba exits and state-owned capital enters, Weibo is expected to magnificently transform into a ‘state-owned enterprise’,” another Weibo user wrote.

Although some commenters worry that Weibo will change for the worse and that there will be more censorship, others see a sunnier future for the social media platform: “It would be good for Weibo to be ‘state-owned’ so that it won’t be controlled by capital to influence public opinion anymore.”

Chinese tech site 36kr also reported about the issue on January 1st, but neither Weibo nor Alibaba or SGM have officially responded yet.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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