A controversial lecture on traditional culture and values for women at Jiangxi’s Jiujiang university has become a topic of discussion in Chinese media and on social media platforms.
The public lecture took place on May 14 at the Jiujiang University in China’s southeast province Jiangxi. It was themed around women’s virtues and “How to be a model woman in the new era.” It caught the attention of netizens when a student posted pictures of the lecture and its alleged Powerpoint slides, which contained sentences such as “being a virgin is the best gift for a husband” and “wearing revealing clothing is vulgar.”
The lecture was held by the 63-year-old Ding Xuan (丁璇), a well-known expert from Hebei on traditional culture. She is also a member of the China Women’s Development Foundation and is often invited to speak at educational institutes, enterprises, and governmental organizations about female virtues or other topics related to Chinese traditional culture.
Ding Xuan’s talk at Jiujiang University drew much controversy over the past week, with people condemning her “feudal thinking.” Many netizens said her speech countered gender equality. People also questioned why Ding was provided a platform at the university to spread these ideas.
In response to the controversy, Jiujiang University’s Publicity Department denied that the lecture contained the slides shared on social media.
Chinese media outlet Global Times reported that the school still supported their decision to host Ding Xuan, saying her seminar did not contain anything “inappropriate,” and that it was meant for female students to “respect themselves and find happiness.”
On Weibo, however, many netizens are angered about Ding Xuan’s lecture: “Any ‘virtues’ that are specifically taught to women and not to men are bad! Men and women both need to avoid immorality, why would you specifically teach morals to women?”, some netizens said.
“A virtuous woman does not kill her child.”
On video platform Tudou, What’s on Weibo found this video featuring one of Ding Xuan’s full lectures on “women’s virtues.” In this lecture, which was held in March of 2016, Ding talks about various issues on how to be a virtuous woman.
The lecture focuses on anything from posture to abortion. Ding stresses that women should not eat while walking, for example, should not raise their voice to greet their neighbors, should not cross their arms while talking, and mentions many other ‘rules’ that ‘virtuous women’ should live by.
Later in the lecture, Ding talks about abortion and shows the audience a disturbing anti-abortion video clip, featuring bloody abortion procedures and graphic pictures of aborted fetuses. While the sound of a crying baby is played, the clip shows blood-soaked fetal limbs and body parts.
Ding then continues to explain that women undergoing abortion are murderers who kill their own baby (“killed by their own mother by her own hand!“) – emphasizing that virtuous women do not “kill their children.”
“Taken out of context.”
Since the controversy over the Jiujiang lecture, Ding Xuan has received a lot of attention, with various bloggers and journalists speaking out against her.
On May 22, Ding Xuan finally responded to the controversy in an exclusive interview with BTimenow (北京时间此刻), in which she confirmed that she was personally invited to give a lecture on women’s issues by Jiujiang University.
Ding Xuan said that, although she did mention the statements that triggered controversy, they were taken out of context. She also apologized for “perhaps delivering her speech the wrong way.”
About the statement on women wearing revealing clothing, she said: “[The people who criticized me] they did not attend my lecture and probably do not understand the circumstances. There were some students wearing revealing clothing that day, and I raised this issue. At the time, only a few people opposed to it and they left early.”
Ding stressed that it is not her intention to make women do everything she says, but that her lectures just reflect her personal point-of-view and experiences. She said it is how she lives and how she teaches her daughter to live.
“Who is willing to marry a woman who has had an abortion before marriage?”
When BTimenow asked Ding why she raised the issue of revealing clothes to students that day, she answered: “They do not understand that I just said it for their own good. They are now nice-looking ladies who want to dress up, but they shouldn’t dress like they are not wearing anything at all. Revealing their thighs and exposing their cleavage; their breasts are showing. Don’t tell me we don’t bear any responsibility to teach our children? Women should dress properly to protect themselves. Firstly to prevent getting sick, secondly to prevent sexual harassment.”
In the interview, Ding also backed her statement about virginity: “We should remind girls to keep their chastity, which can guarantee the blessing of marriage. Who is willing to marry a woman who has had an abortion before marriage, and who has been someone’s mistress? But people can also have their own point of view, I don’t object to that.”
Ding said she will continue to do lectures on female virtues for anyone who is interested. On Weibo, many netizens say these kinds of speeches should not be given at a university. “It is not appropriate for a university to hosts such a lecture,” one person (@兔子栗子) said. “Wake up! The Qing dynasty is over!”, others wrote.
Many Weibo users commented that if the university hosted these kinds of lectures for women, they should do the same for men. “[Many men] sleep with one girl after the other, yet they still expect to marry a virgin,” some said.
Another commenter said: “Ding Xuan is a woman herself, why does she belittle herself this way? She should return to the feudal times – she is not a modern woman.”
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Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake
In a new book on China’s Leftover Women, author Roseann Lakes highlights the strength and merit of China’s unmarried women.
As the count-down for China’s most important event of the year, the Spring Festival, has started, countless unmarried daughters and sons anticipate the reunion with their parents and relatives with some horror. “Why are you still single?” is amongst the top-dreaded questions they are facing during the New Year’s dinners at the family dining table.
More so than the bachelor sons, it’s China’s unmarried daughters in their late twenties and early thirties who came to be at the center of a media storm over the past decade. The so-called ‘leftover women’ (剩女 shèngnǚ) have become a source of critique, banter, worry, fascination, and inspiration for the media, both in- and outside China.
The term shèngnǚ became a catchphrase ever since the Chinese Ministry of Education listed it as one of the newest additions to Chinese vocabulary in 2007. The shengnü label is mainly applied to unmarried (urban) women in their late twenties or early thirties who are generally well-educated and goal-oriented, but who came to be associated with ‘leftover food’ because of their single status and long-standing beliefs about the right age to marry.
One 2015 survey by Chinese dating site Zhenai, that was held amongst 1452 single men and women, shows that 50% of Chinese men think that women who are still single at the age of 25 are ‘leftovers.’
“I’m pro-active about finding a partner, but not to the extent that it gets in the way of other ambitions.”
After the success of much-acclaimed books such as Factory Girls (Leslie T. Chang 2008) and Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (Leta Hong Fincher 2014), Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower (2018) by Roseann Lake, Cuba correspondent for The Economist, brings fresh insights into the role and position of young women in a rapidly-changing society.
At the root of the ‘leftover women’ phenomenon and the media frenzy around it lies China’s One-Child Policy (1979-2015), the country’s imbalanced sex ratio, and traditional perceptions on wives and mothers being the building blocks of Chinese families and the nation at large.
Lake describes how the onset of China’s One-Child Policy and a traditional preference for sons, together with the available ultrasound technology in the late 1980s, led to an enormous rise of abortions on female fetuses. The gender imbalance it brought about is most severe in China’s rural areas; in places such as Tianmen, Hubei, the gender ratio is a shocking 176 males to 100 females. It leaves villages full of men who are unable to find a bride and start a family. Guānggùn (光棍), they’re also called, literally the “bare branches” of their hometowns.
While the ‘bare branches’ reside in China’s more rural areas, the ‘leftover women’ live in China’s more urban areas. The ‘bare branches’ and ‘leftover women’ both have difficulties in finding a partner, albeit for radically different reasons. For the rural men, there simply are not enough marriage candidates, whereas for the urban women, there are not enough suitable marriage candidates. A major difference between the countryside and the urban environment is that China’s cities have seen a much better-balanced gender ratio, with parents pampering and pressuring their only child – whether it was a boy or girl.
Although Lake does explain the “gruesome cloud” of China’s One-Child Policy and female foeticide and the demographic problems it has triggered, she especially focuses on the “silver lining,” which is that the sociopolitical circumstances have also ‘forced’ parents to value their daughters more than ever before. Over the past decades, millions of Chinese daughters have been given the opportunities and liberties their mothers and grandmothers never had. Their increased educational and professional prospects have made marriage somewhat less of a priority for them.
While China’s unmarried, urban woman are often stigmatized by Chinese state media for being too ‘spoilt’, ‘picky’, or ‘promiscuous’ to marry, Roseann Lake casts an entirely different light on China’s urban bachelorettes as being determined, independent, and self-assured. “I’m pro-active about finding a partner,” one of the ‘leftover women’ in Lake’s book says: “But not to the extent that it gets in the way of other ambitions.”
CHANGING TIMES, CHANGING LOVE
“Leftover women are resisting ultimatums to wed because they want to marry for love, and not just for the sake of being married.”
Lake’s strong connection to Chinese culture and society jumps off the pages of Leftover in China, in which she playfully and compellingly offers a window into the female experience in modern China, explaining fascinating concepts that are unique to modern-day society. One such example is the ‘phantom third stories’ phenomenon; two-story houses with an unfinished ‘fake’ third story, built by unmarried men and their family to make the house appear more grandiose in the hopes of attracting a wife.
The interest in China started when Lake took a sabbatical from her job with the French government in New York, and went to Beijing. “I was only supposed to stay for three months,” she tells What’s on Weibo: “But shortly into my stay I bought a hot orange electric – Chinese – ‘Vespa’, and that changed everything.”
As Lake was riding her scooter, which she lovingly nicknamed ‘Fanta’, she took in the city and all of its aspects, including its love and romantic relationships. On what first caught her attention within this field, she explains that it started one afternoon as she was riding her scooter in Beijing and spotted a very angry Chinese woman on the side of the road, screaming profanities at a man who appeared to be her romantic partner. The altercation turned violent, and it was not the first time Lake had witnessed such a scene between couples in public.
“I felt that something seemed afoul with the state of romantic relationships in China,” she says – which was a start of her interest and research into romance, love, and the role of Chinese women in this. “For thousands of years, marriage has largely been a mercenary, transactional agreement in China, made with the best interests of the key stakeholders – the parents – in mind.”
Romantic love as a reason for marriage in China, Lake says, is a relatively new concept. She tells What’s on Weibo: “Down the line, this better helped me understand the situation of leftover women – many of which, as I discovered, were resisting ultimatums to wed because they wanted to marry for love, and not just for the sake of being married.”
The topic of China’s changing marriage values and the generation gap in perceptions on love and marriage between parents and their daughters recurringly comes back in Lake’s book, for which she followed the lives of various ‘leftover women’ over a period of several years. Through the stories of women such as Christy, the CEO of a successful Beijing PR firm, or June, a “return turtle” who came back to the mainland after graduating from Yale, readers can get a grasp of the pressures and problems many single women are facing in China today.
An important lesson to draw from this book is that the phenomenon of China’s ‘leftover women’ cannot be explained through a unidimensional lens. Lake highlights China’s historical, societal, cultural, and economic dimensions in her approach of why this large group of unmarried women, despite all of their personal, academic and professional achievements, are still being labeled through their single status.
THE TOAST OF THE NATION
“There is irony and absurdity in the fact that these women are referred to as “leftover” but are really such an important part of China’s future.”
In 2016, an ad campaign by skincare brand SK-II titled ‘She Finally Goes to the Marriage Corner’ (她最后去了相亲角) gained huge popularity on Chinese social media. The short video showed how women, pressured to get married by their families and society, pluck up the courage to speak out and get their message heard.
The video received much praise, with many women protesting against the derogatory ‘leftover women’ label. CCTV recently also posted a feature article on social media in which various women plead for the elimination of the “leftover woman” or shèngnǚ label.
Why, then, would Lake still refer to the ‘leftover’ label on the cover of her book? About the book’s title, Lake says: “There was a different title that I preferred, but my publisher disagreed with it, so we compromised on ‘Leftover in China.’ It has grown on me. I’m told that for non-fiction books, the subtitle is just as important as the title itself, and I think “The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower” is apt. It underscores the irony and absurdity of the fact that these women are referred to as “leftover” but are really such an important part of China’s future.”
Throughout the course of writing this book, Lake spoke to many experts on the importance of China’s young (unmarried) women in shaping Chinese economics. One of them is Dr. Kaiping Peng, the founding chair of the Department of Psychology at Tsinghua University, who is quoted as saying: “The Chinese economic miracle has two secrets. The first are migrant workers, and the second are young, educated women.”
All the love, time, and money that Chinese parents and grandparents have invested in their only (grand)daughter has now paid off – not just for them, but for the economy at large. These well-educated and hard-working women play a powerful role in running China’s economic engine.
THE FUTURE OF CHINA’S LEFTOVER WOMEN
“Few people know that the most imbalanced year for sex ratio at birth in China was actually 2005.”
When talking about the future of China’s ‘leftover women,’ Lake suspects that they will continue to get married later in life or not at all – on trend with what is also happening in countries such as Japan or South Korea. “This would be much to the dismay of the Chinese government” Lake says, “- which desperately wants babies, but hasn’t done much to incentivize or make it easier for women to have them.”
Social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat also play an important role in the lives of these women: “When I was living in China and writing the first drafts of this book, there were a few groups on Weixin [WeChat] where women would chat, share articles, and plan gatherings. They’ve dramatically multiplied! More content is shared, more ideas are exchanged, and the ease of these platforms means that Chinese women abroad can easily remain a part of the conversation.”
Lake is more worried about the so-called guānggùn, China’s ‘bare branches’: “We all may imagine that the worst years for gendercide were in the 80s and 90s, when population controls were stricter in China, but I think few people know that the most imbalanced year for sex ratio at birth in China was actually 2005. That means that boys who are now 13 years old will likely have a harder time finding a wife than any generations of men before them.”
This Spring Festival, Lake is anticipating the launch of her book (release February 13, 2018), which has already been listed as one of the must-read books for 2018 by the South China Morning Post.
For China’s many bachelorettes, they’ll just have to face the nagging questions at the New Year’s dining table, but they need not worry too much about being called ‘leftover women.’ Through books such as these, the term loses its derogatory tone – it is becoming a badge of honor instead.
Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake is now available for pre-sale:
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“Soft Drink Prostitution” – How Beverage Bottles on Cars are Used for Soliciting Sex Outside of Chinese Campuses
People looking for paid sex have found a creative way of letting others know. In the world of so-called “soft drink prostitution,” green tea services are cheaper than Red Bull ones.
Over the past few days, various Chinese media outlets have been reporting about a new phenomenon popping up at Chinese campuses dubbed “soft drink prostitution.”
Just as shoes dangling from trees or telephone wire in many countries are associated with places where people can buy drugs, putting a drink on the roof or hood of a parked car in China (preferably a BMW), would mean the driver is soliciting prostitution.
Many recent articles about this issue, however, have been taken offline over the past two days from news sites such as Sina.com or Sohu.com.
Is it a new urban myth or is ‘soft drink prostitution’ in fact happening? What’s on Weibo dug deeper to find out more about what this phenomenon entails.
“Different drinks represent different prices.”
The recent coverage of the ‘soft drink prostitution’ phenomenon in Chinese media was first triggered by a notice on the official website of Tianjin Normal University on December 11, 2017, titled: “About the Disposal of ‘Rooftop Beverages’ on Cars From Outside the Campus” (“关于清理校园外来车辆“车顶放置饮料”的情况通报”).
The notice explained that since the beginning of the semester, campus security started noticing that parked cars outside the campus gates would have beverage bottles placed on their roofs or hoods with the purpose of “luring in female students to prostitute themselves,” and that “different drinks represent different prices.”
The notice also included a warning that it is illegal for people to perform sexual acts in return for money or goods, regardless of whether such transactions would occur between people of the same sex or opposite sex.
“This does indeed happen in various places.“
Around December 29, 18 days after the original announcement was allegedly placed, news of the Tianjin University phenomenon started spreading on social media in China.
On one message board, netizens questioned the veracity of the announcement, as it was nowhere to be found on the official website of the Tianjin Normal University.
“I’ve attentively examined the website of the Tianjin Normal University,” one commenter wrote: “And this particular news was not on the site. On December 11, they did post two articles, but one was about bank card skimming and the other was about the illegal recruitment of students for training programs. Also, the font used in the screenshot and that used on the official website is not the same.”
Although the critical readers determined this must be a fake news item, there were others who said that even if it were fake news, “this [practice] does [indeed] happen in various places.”
“It may lead to misunderstandings.“
As rumors about the Chinese campuses “soft drink prostitution” kept circulating online, news sources such as Modern Express (现代快报) and The Paper first covered the issue on January 2, 2018.
According to the The Paper, the announcement was, in fact, true, but that it was taken offline by the University because it “may lead to misunderstandings” because of its “wording.”
On Weibo, some netizens said that the article was more of a “manual” for students to how the phenomenon works than an actual warning against it.
According to a spokesperson at the University, the announcement concerned “a normal procedure,” and was not meant to attract so much attention online.
The spokesperson compared such a warning to regular announcements about pickpockets, and emphasized that no students had entered the parked cars.
“Green tea represents the offer to pay 300 yuan (±45$), whereas a can of Red Bull stands for 600 yuan (±90$).“
So-called “soft drink prostitution” is actually not an entirely new phenomenon around Chinese campuses. Various other media outlets and reporters, such this vlogger called ‘SheCar’on Baidu TV or this online newspaper already reported about the issue in 2016, explaining the difference between drinks types.
A bottle of mineral water means 200 yuan (30$), green tea represents the offer to pay 300 yuan (±45$), for instance, whereas a can of Red Bull stands for 600 yuan (±90$).
During a days-long experiment in which a Baidu TV presenter parked the car outside of various universities in Hunan with a beverage bottle on the rooftop, it turned out that several students -some female and one male- actually did pick up the bottle and got into the car.
In 2016, Sina news explained that the parked cars outside of campuses are mostly BMW brands. If a person gets into the car that is not to the driver’s liking, they can just say “they are waiting for someone.”
On Weibo, some netizens are surprised that the rumors and alleged “fake news” announcement have turned out to be true: “I always thought this was just some sexual fantasy,” one person comments.
There are also people who say that now that this phenomenon is more widely covered, it actually “reveals what people want to hide” (“此地无银三百两”).
Other people also point out that the beverage bottle trick does not always work. As one commenter writes: “I saw this in front of my school once. But no one got into the car all day. Finally, a street sweeper took the drink from the car roof and drank it.”
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