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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. Avatar

    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. Avatar

    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 Insight

“I’m One of 1.4 Billion” Goes Trending as China’s Population Now Tops the 1.4B Number

China’s total population is up, but its birth rate has fallen to the lowest level.

Manya Koetse

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According to the latest numbers, China’s birth rate has hit a new low, but state media are instead highlighting the fact that China’s population has now surpassed 1,4 billion.

This Friday, official data, released annually by the National Bureau of Statistics, shows that the total Chinese mainland’s population has surpassed 1.4 billion at the end of 2019.

In light of this news, Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily launched the hashtag “I’m One of 1.4 Billion” (#我就是14亿分之一#), propagating a sense of unity among such a massive population.

This message was also reiterated by other accounts, such as the Shenzhen Police, that said: “We’re all one big family, our name is China, we have a lot of brothers and sisters.”

China’s Birth Rate Falls to Lowest

While People’s Daily is publicizing the 1.4 billion number, the annual statistics also show that China’s birth rate has fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Although only 14,65 million were born in mainland China in 2019, the death rate of the country was also lower than before – meaning that the total population number still went up from 1,39 billion to 1,4 billion in the last year.

One thread started by People’s Daily on Weibo received nearly 530,000 likes by Friday afternoon, with thousands of Weibo users posting a response to the latest numbers.

Many netizens responded to the news in a similar fashion, saying: “There are already enough people [in China] now, I don’t need to have children anymore,” or: “Good, there’s so many people, I don’t have to worry about having kids.”

China’s marriage rates hit a new low in 2019 after dropping year by year.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the existing social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates.

The rising costs of living and the fact that many among Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy and general preference for baby boys.

Although Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or not being able to afford it.

For some years, ‘leftover women’ were mentioned as a reason for China’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were sometimes singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This has increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Today’s responses on Weibo seem to indicate that many young people are still not very eager to have children. “Let’s not add to the population, it’s enough burden for the planet,” some say.

Others say the number of 1,4 billion make them or their action seem “irrelevant” and “tiny.”

There are also those with entirely different concerns about the number: “There are 1,4 billion in China now, and yet I’m still not able to find a boyfriend!”

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media

From blockchain to hardcore, this is an overview of China’s media top buzzwords over the past year.

Jialing Xie

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Some of the expressions and idioms that have been buzzing in Chinese media the past year. What’s on Weibo’s Jialing Xie explains. 

Last year, we listed China’s “top ten buzzwords” for you (link), giving an overview of some noteworthy expressions on Chinese social media and in the media in 2018. Recently, the chief editor of the magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì (咬文嚼字) has again announced the “top ten buzzwords” in China of the past year.

Yǎowén Jiáozì, which literally means “to pay excessive attention to wording,” is a monthly publication focused on the Chinese language. Chinese (state) media have been widely propagating the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year in newspapers and on Chinese online media. The ten terms have also become a topic of discussion on Weibo over the past month, with the topic receiving 290 million views.

We’ve listed them for you here:

 

1. 文明互鉴 (wénmíng hùjiàn): “Mutual Learning”

  • Literal Meaning: “Mutual learning,” “Exchanges and mutual learning among different cultures and civilizations.”
  • Original context: This expression can be traced back to the era around and during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), a time of division, bloody battles, and political chaos. The demands for solutions brought forth a broad range of philosophies and schools. During this time, Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Mohism and many others were developed leading to the phenomenon known as the “Contention of a Hundred Schools of Thought.”
  • What does it mean now? In 2014, at the 4th summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward a major initiative to convene a conference on dialogue between Asian countries followed by an introduction emphasizing how “diversity spurs interaction among civilizations, which promotes mutual learning.” This sentence and expression were later repeated in speeches during various major events. In May 2019, President Xi once again emphasized the idea during the CICA, making the term pop up across Chinese state media again. 

 

2. 区块链 (qū kuài liàn): “Blockchain”

  • Literal Meaning: Blockchain Technology
  • Context: “Blockchain” is no longer a new concept since it was first introduced to the public around a decade ago. Development of the malleable blockchain technology has become an important trend in China’s tech market through the years. 
  • What does it mean now?  Blockchain was all the buzz in China over the past year. In early 2019, the Cyberspace Administration of China released the Provisions on the Administration of Blockchain Information Services. In October, President Xi singled out blockchain technology as an important breaking point in developing China’s core innovative technology and emphasized the importance of investing and stepping up research on the standardization of blockchain to increase China’s influence and power in the global arena. 

 

3. 硬核 (yìng hé): “Hardcore”

  • Literal Meaning: “Hardcore” – 硬 = hard, 核 = core. 
  • Context: “Hardcore” is known as the abbreviation for Hardcore Punk, a punk rock music genre originated in Southern California during the late 1970s. The term was later used to reference things of a certain level of complexity, such as “hardcore games” (versus casual games). The term started to mean something along the lines of “terrific” (厉害) or “strict”/”rigid” (刚硬)  and in Chinese, started being used in expressions such as “Tiger mom” (硬核妈妈) or “Hardcore game players” (硬核玩家).
  • What does it mean now?  As the Chinese science fiction blockbuster The Wandering Earth (流浪地球) was categorized as ‘hardcore science fiction’ (硬核科幻), the term ‘hardcore’ resurfaced as a popular word often popping up in (online) conversations.

 

 4. 融梗 (róng gěng): “Mixing up ideas”

  • Literal Meaning: “Integrating other people’s ideas into one’s own work” or “integrating punchlines,” “mixing up plots.”
  • Context: Over the past two decades, many literary works, including a few by prestigious Chinese writers, have been suspected of plagiarism and triggered heated discussions online — when it comes to drawing inspiration from other art and literary creations, where is the boundary between artistic freedom and plagiarism?
  • What does it mean now?  Soon after the Chinese movie Better Days (少年的你) came out in October (read more here), the writer of the original novel was accused of plagiarizing parts of Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino’s work. Many netizens argued that in the field of online literature, borrowing ideas from others (融梗) is ubiquitous and does not necessarily equate plagiarism because the act (融梗) itself requires original work and creativity. From October to now, the term has become a recurring topic in Chinese media. 

 

 5. “XX 千万条,XX 第一条” (XX qiān wàn tiáo, XX dì yī tiáo): “Out of millions of things,..is the first one”

  • Literal Meaning: “Out of ten million things,.. xxx comes first as the rule of thumb.” 
  • Context: List thinking is prevailing in China; from codes and regulations enacted by the government and laid down by companies, to the way teachers outline their lectures, the usage of “articles” (sometimes used as ‘rules’)  or “items” (条) to organize ideas and outline objectives is commonly seen in daily life.
  • What does it mean now? This phrase caught people’s attention after appearing in the aforementioned science fiction film The Wandering Earth, where a robot voice reminds a driver of traffic safety in a noteworthy way, saying something along the lines of: “There are thousands of road rules, but safety rules always come first. If you disregard safety, your loved ones will end up in tears.” Despite sounding like a sketch that rhymes poorly in Chinese, the lines stuck around and were later also used by Chinese traffic police across the country. The sentence structure is now also more often applied in various other contexts, for example: “There are thousands of things good for health, but sleep is the most important.”

 

6. 柠檬精 (níngméng jīng): “Lemon monster”

  • Literal Meaning: “Lemon mythical spirit” or “Sour lemon goblin”
  • Context: In ancient Chinese superstitions, it’s believed that animals and non-living objects may have the potential to grow into something with spiritual and immortal characteristics if meeting certain criteria. One of the criteria is to be around long enough, usually hundreds of years – if not thousands. For instance, in the classical work Journey to the West (西游记), the four main characters except Tang Sanzang are all spiritual beings derived from animal prototypes. 
  • What does it mean now? Lemon tastes sour (酸), which is often used to describe the feeling of envy or jealousy. When lemon becomes a spiritual being, it basically means the lemon has reached the ultimate stage of being a lemon and maximized its characteristics such as being terribly sour. The phrase is used to deride those who feel envious of others’ possession and achievement. Lately, the word is more often seen in a self deprecating humoristic context. For instance, when someone says “I’m a lemon jing now/I feel sour now( 我柠檬精了/我酸了)”, instead of expressing envy towards others, it’s more about acknowledging others more advantageous position compared to one’s own. 

 

7. The 996 work schedule 

  • Literal Meaning: 996 working hour system
  • Context: 996 is a work schedule commonly practiced by many companies in the internet and tech industry in China. With the 996 schedule, employees are required to work from 9 am to 9  pm, 6 days per week. 
  • What does it mean now? In April 2019, Jack Ma, the co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group, commented on 996 during an internal meeting with Alibaba employees. Ma’s comments seemed to justify how companies and employees can both benefit from the work schedule, however, the comments quickly triggered criticism after widely circulating online for allegedly violating of the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China. 

 

8. “我太难(南)了” (wǒ tài nán le): “Life is so hard for me” 

  • Literal Meaning: “I’m feeling uneasy” or “life is so hard for me” 
  • Context: The phrase originated from a 10-second video self-posted by a user on video-sharing site Kuaishou earlier in 2019. As the video begins, the user – an older Chinese guy –  says to the camera: “I’m feeling uneasy…” followed by sad music. He then continues to say “Lao tie [bro/guys], (I) have been under a lot of stress lately.” The video, in which the man dramatically drops his head in his hands and seems to cry without tears, quickly went viral. The phrase “I’m feeling uneasy” was quickly adopted and applied in daily conversations.  
  • What does it mean now? The broad circulation of this phrase on the internet reflects that the uneasy feeling about life is relatable to many people. Acknowledging the stress in a self-deprecating humorous tone is in itself a way of relieving stress. To add a sense of humor to this phrase, many replace the initial character “难” (nán, adj. difficult) with “南” (nán, adj.& n. south), which is believed to be taken from the mahjong tile “南风”(south wind).  

 

9. “我不要你觉得,我要我觉得” (wǒ bùyào nǐ juédé, wǒ yào wǒ juédé): “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think”

  • Literal Meaning: “I don’t want to know what you think, I only care about what I think.”
  • Context: The line was taken from Xiaoming Huang, one of the guests in the third season of the entertainment TV show “Chinese Restaurant”, which was broadcasted in the summer of 2019. In the show, Huang, who took the role as the manager of the restaurant, is self-centered, and often disregards the opinions of others in matters such as menu ideas or pricing, showing his blind self-confidence and arrogance. In addition to this line, Huang’s frequently used language includes “There is no need to discuss this matter”, “Listen to me, I have the final say” and so on, and it spread quickly on the internet.  
  • What does it mean now? The popularity of this line reflects people’s ridicule and resentment against arrogant and dominant personalities.

 

10. 霸凌主义 (bàlíng zhǔyì): “Bully-ism”

  • Literal Meaning: “Bully-ism”
  • Context: The word 霸凌 (bàlíng) comes from the English word “bully.” Here, it refers to bullying other countries in the face of conflicts between nations. 
  • What does it mean now? As the trade conflict between the US and China was ongoing in 2019, many believed that the current government administration of the United States has been handling international affairs in almost a bullying manner. The slogan “America First” is also often perceived as a declaration in front of the entire world that the interests of the United States come first. As a buzzword, “bullyism” has come to be used by Chinese media in the context of international affairs. 

 

By Jialing Xie
Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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