On March 14th 2013, China biggest matchmaking website ‘Shiji Jiayuan’ published a report titled “Confessions of Leftover Men” about their nationwide research on the background of China’s single men, who are referred to as “shengnan” (剩男), ‘leftover men’. Their research involved an extensive online survey of 56.013 single men born between the 1970s and 1980s. Some of their findings: the rate of single men is highest in Guangxi with a 34.9% percentage; 49% of them do not own a house or car; 60% of them admit to being a so-called ‘zhainan’ (a ‘geek’ with low social interaction) (China Daily 2013, Sina 2013). This account of China’s single men poses a stark contrast to that of China’s unmarried woman, the ‘shengnü’ (剩女), who has been profiled as being successful, sexy and single. The new report on single men coins many questions: why is it so hard for these Chinese men to find women? What is the main reason for their unmarried status? And why is their general profile so different from their female ‘leftover’ counterparts?
The Shengnü: China’s Leftover Women
The term ‘shengnü’ (‘leftover woman’) has been a catch phrase in China’s media for years. In 2007, the Chinese Ministry of Education listed the term as one of the new additions to Chinese vocabulary (Lake et al 2013). A ‘shengnü’ is an unmarried woman in her 20s or 30s who focuses on her career and struggles to get married. She holds high standards for her relationships and has expectations about her future marriage that conflict with existing social ideals- according to the Chinese Association of Studies of Marriages and Relationships: “Ideal marriage age for women is 25 in a man’s perspective (…) Only 8% of men would like to marry women over 27 year old” (Zhou 2011, 3-4). This ideal marrying age poses a serious pressure for young Chinese women- starting from the age of 25 they have to hurry to get married, at the age of 28 they are almost considered ‘expired’ and by the age of 31 they are officially ‘left over’ (Lake 2012).
China has been dealing with an unbalanced male-female ratio since the 1980s. The imbalance is one of the most significant consequences of China’s one-child policy (Chen 2011, 2). At the peak of the disparity in girls and boys births in 2004, 121.2 boys were born for every 100 girls. This gender ratio has now dropped to 117.7 boys for every 100 girls (Chen 2013). One explanation for this significant gender ratio imbalance is the traditional social preference for sons and the widespread occurrence of illegal sex-selective abortions since China’s 1978 one-child policy (Burger 2012). In comparison: the natural gender ratio would be 106 boys per 100 girls. As Chen (2011) indicates: “Theoretically, there should be more unmarried men than women in China. It is intriguing that shengnü appear more prominent” (2). It is expected that there will be a surplus of 30 million men of marrying age in 2020, suggesting that one in five men will not be able to find a bride (Lake 2012). The recent publication of the Shiji Jiayuan research on China’s single men reveals that ‘leftover men’ have a completely different background from ‘leftover women’. Whereas the shengnü seem to be ambitious, clever, metropolitan career women, shengnan appear to be penniless, unsocial geeks in the more rural areas of China. How can the difference between China’s single men and single women be explained?
‘Leftover Men’ versus ‘Leftover Women’
In “Confessions of Leftover Men”, China’s shengnan give several reasons for their single existence. They simply do not know how to court a lady, they do not have the courage to approach a woman or are too busy with work (China Daily 2013). Luckily for them, they generally do not really start worrying about getting married until they reach the age of 34. The ladies have different reasons for not being married, such as a focus on their careers and independence, and the mere fact that they have not met the right person who can live up to their (high) expectations (Lake et al 2013). Zhang Jiarui, expert on love and relationships, gives an outline of China’s ‘leftover’ problem. Traditionally, Chinese women prefer “marrying-up” and look for a spouse who has a better educational background and who has a higher salary than they do. The men traditionally want to marry women who can admire them and are therefore a bit lower than they are in terms of education and salary. When we divide these men and women into A, B, C and D groups, the A-men would generally marry B-women and the B-men would wed a C-woman. Approaching the problem in this way, Zhang indicates that it will generally be the “A-women” and the “D-men” that get “left behind” (Sina 2013). This explains the big difference in ‘leftover women’ and ‘leftover men’: the first are often the educated, higher class, attractive girls, whilst the latter are mostly the poorer, lower class and less-educated men.
Into the Sphere of Love
It is clear that things have to change in order to break the perpetual cycle that leaves both men and women without a spouse. The first step is curbing the imbalanced girl-boy gender ratio. China’s Family Planning Commission has implemented several measures to do so. Doctors are no longer allowed to tell parents the sex of their unborn baby and pregnant women cannot undergo abortion to avoid giving birth to a girl. These measures have been improving the imbalance in gender ratio since 2009 (Chen 2013). It will, however, not solve the current problems of China’s leftover men and women. They still suffer from the pressure of their parents’ traditional expectations on marriage and societal sex discrimination. As Chen (2011) points out: “In China, marriage involves much more than a couple truly in love. The material base is given lots of consideration. Men and women act with market logic, considering their own needs and backgrounds when choosing spouses”: their marriage has become a market strategy instead of a romantic choice. The only way to break this cycle is for China to move away from dominant traditional expectations on marriage and bring marriage back to where it belongs: out of the market domain, and into the sphere of love.
Note: Want to know more about shengnü/shengnan? Keep an eye on author Roseann Lake. Hoping to give China’s ‘leftovers’ a hand, Lake, together with co-authors Lee and Myers, has created cartoon superhero ‘Chaoji Shengnü’ (Super Single Lady), who helps out single men and ladies in need. As they describe her: “Chaoji Shengnü is an equal-opportunity superhero. Fully aware that unmarried Chinese men, or “shengnan” are equally susceptible to marital pressures, (although for rather different reasons), she’s just as likely to sweep in and lend a hand to a gentleman in distress.” Check out the Chaoji Shengnü cartoon series here.
– Article by Manya Koetse, 2013
Burger, Richard. 2012. Behind the Red Door: Sex in China. Hong Kong: Earnshaw Books.
Chen Tian. 2013. “Girl births gaining ground on boys’.” Global Times (March 6). Online at http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/766117.shtml (Accessed March 16, 2013).
Chen, Zhou. 2011. “The Embodiment of Transforming Gender and Class- Shengnu and their Media Representation in Contemporary China.” University of Kansas. Online at http://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/dspace/bitstream/1808/9802/1/Chen_ku_0099M_11735_DATA_1.pdf (Accessed March 16, 2013).
China Daily. 2013. “调查称江西‘剩男’比例全国第二 近四成‘剩男’春节被逼婚。”China Daily (March 15). Online at: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/hqgj/jryw/2013-03-15/content_8504179.html (Accessed March 15, 2013).
Lake, Roseann. 2012. “All the Shengnu Ladies.” Salon (March 12th). Online at http://www.salon.com/2012/03/12/all_the_shengnu_ladies/ (Accessed March 16, 2013).
Lake, Roseann, Leo Lee and Ryan Myers. 2013. “Chaoji Shengnu Episode 1.” The World of Chinese (February 10). Online at http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2013/02/chaoji-shengnu-episode-1/ (Accessed March 16, 2013).
Sina. 2013. “调查：剩男底薪比例明显较高 半数剩男没车没房.“ Sina (March 14). Online at: http://gd.sina.com.cn/news/m/2013-03-14/071073355.html (Accessed March 15, 2013).
Xinhua. 2013. “China’s sex ratio at birth declines.” China Daily. Online at: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-03/05/content_16278322.htm (Accessed March 16, 2013).
Picture by Manya Koetse
Cartoons by Lake, Roseann, Leo Lee and Ryan Myers. 2013.
Over a Third of China’s Babies Are Delivered via C-Section – The National Health Commission Wants to Change That
Fear of pain is a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request.
In 2018 the percentage of deliveries by cesarean was 36.7% in mainland China, according to the latest Report on Women’s & Children’s Health (中国妇幼健康事业发展报告) that was launched by the National Health Commission on May 27.
This means that together with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now has the highest C-section rates in the world.
A World Health Organization report from 2010 estimated that 46% of Chinese babies were delivered via C-section. In 2017, another study found that this percentage was incorrect, although some urban and wealthier regions in China, such as Shanghai, did see C-section (CS) rates as a high as 68% (Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 1; McNeil 2017).
China’s CS rates have recently become a hot topic in Chinese newspapers and on social media. On May 27, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China held a Beijing news conference in which Qin Geng (秦耕), the director, announced that more actions will be taken to encourage natural childbirth among Chinese women.
These actions will, among others, include stricter regulation of cesarian section operations and the provision of more support and pain relief for laboring women, as well as a higher hospital income for natural births. The National Health Comission hopes to significantly reduce the number of unneccesssary C-sections without medical indication in this way (Beijing News 2019; Caijing 2019).
Since 1985, the international healthcare community has considered 10-15% to be “the ideal rate” for C-sections, of which the highest percentage are those CS deliveries with medical indications that can actually save the lives of mothers and babies.
Although the worldwide rates for CS deliveries have increased throughout the years, there is no evidence for the benefits of nonmedically indicated C-sections for women or children, according to the World Health Organization.
This is not the first time Chinese authorities try to combat the country’s high CS rates. After reports by the World Health Organization from 2010 and 2015 pointing out the potential hazards of unnecessary C-sections, there have been various state efforts to reduce the number of nonmedical cesarian surgeries.
Besides the introduction of free prenatal education classes, these efforts included monitoring public hospital CS rates and removing bonuses or cutting portions of a hospital’s income once their CS rates reached a certain threshold (e.g. 40%) (Wang 2017, 3). These government initiatives seem to have had effect: the country’s C-section growth rates have slowed down, but were not decreasing yet.
Since the Chinese government announced an end to its one-child policy in 2015, lowering cesarean sections rates has become a more urgent matter, as Chinese couples are now allowed to have a second child.
Although various studies from mainland China and beyond challenge the idea that nonmedical C-sections are less ‘safe’ than vaginal births for single deliveries, this risk changes when a woman who previously had a CS section plans another pregnancy: multiple cesarean sections are associated with additional risks including CS scar rupture and abnormal placental invasion (Biler et al 2017, 1074; Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 2; Liu et al 2015, 817).
Why So Many C-sections in China?
But why does China have such a high cesarian delivery rate at all? Since the early 1990s, mainland China saw a more dramatic rise in CS rates than, for example, the USA; from less than 10% (with only 3.4% in 1988), China went to one of the highest in the world (Hellerstein 2011; Wolf 2018, 13).
The answer to why this is, is not so straightforward and relates to socio-economic changes as well as cultural factors that come into play.
One reason is that there is a general belief in the ‘safety’ of cesarian births that influence women’s choices for a (nonmedical and planned) C-section (Black & Bhattacharya 2017, 2).
An insightful study into this matter is that of researcher Eileen Wang (2017), who found that anxiety about giving birth and fear of pain is also a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request, especially considering that only a minority of Chinese women are given any form of pain relief during labor. Besides traditional concepts, this is also because China faces a shortage of anesthetists and because obstetricians are not always well-informed to prescribe other forms of pain medication (2017, 5).
As noted by Wang, epidurals are denied to laboring women not just because anesthesiologists are too busy, but also because of various other factors: different from a scheduled C-section on their agenda, they are not always available during nighttimes and in weekends to administer anesthesia to women in labor, do not have the time to monitor a patient for hours during labor (whereas a cesarean could be done in an hour), or were not even trained to administer epidurals (2017, 5).
According to Wang, the concerns about labor pain result in more requests for C-sections, both before and during labor. With relatively low awareness and availability of labor pain relief methods many Chinese women simply opt for a C-section as a way to control their pain.
But there are also other factors that contribute to the relatively high rate of women requesting C-sections for nonmedical reasons. One of them is the importance placed in the astrological calendar: having a baby on that one ‘lucky day’ or within that ‘lucky year’ is considered enough reason to plan a cesarian birth for many Chinese families.
In early 2015, ahead of the Chinese New Year, many women rushed to the hospital to make sure their baby was born in the Year of the Horse (2014) as the Year of the Goat (2015) was coming up. There is an old Chinese saying that nine out of ten people born in the Year of the Goat are incomplete and will suffer from great misfortune throughout their life (“十羊九不全”).
Another factor that leads to more cesareans on maternal request relates to the existing concerns among women that vaginal delivery will affect their figure or sex life (Wang 2017, 2).
Responses on Chinese Social Media
Since the Beijing news conference of May 27, the hashtag “Reducing Unnecessary Cesarean Section Surgery” (#减少非必需剖宫产手术#) has taken off on Chinese social media.
“What do you call ‘unnecessary cesarian’?” one of the most popular comments said: “Isn’t it that so many women in labor choose to have a C-section because natural childbirth is too painful?”
Other commenters also called for a normalization of pain relief in labor, saying that the high percentage of C-sections lies in the fact that Chinese women lack access to “wútòng fēnmiǎn” (无痛分娩) or “painless birth,” meaning vaginal delivery with pain relief.
Some Weibo users also stress that women should have the freedom of choice on how they wish to give birth, saying: “C-section or natural should be my own choice” and “If you leave me no choice I might as well not give birth at all.”
Multiple commenters write: “The lower the C-section rate, the higher the suicides,” referring to an incident that occurred in Shaanxi in 2017 when a pregnant woman committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the hospital after she was allegedly denied a CS delivery.
Other Chinese netizens also complain about the fact that it seems to be men who are promoting the new policies to combat the high C-section rates, writing: “Isn’t there a way to have them suffer the pain of labor instead?”
In her study, scholar Eileen Wang also argues that the lack of pain relief is one of the major issues that should be addressed by policymakers who are hoping to reduce the number of C-sections in China. Further improving the childbirth experience by, for example, integrating a midwifery model, is also essential in making natural childbirth more attractive for Chinese women, Wang argues.
For now, many hospitals in China are still offering C-section “packages”: some prices start at RMB 5800 ($840) for a C-section, other hospitals have packages that start from RMB 88,000 ($12,741) including a three-day hospital stay in a private room.
“It’s a pregnant’s woman body, so she should decide how she wants to deliver her baby,” one commenter on Weibo writes: “It should be a woman’s right to decide.”
By Manya Koetse
Biler, A., Ekin, A., Ozcan, A., Inan, A. H., Vural, T., & Toz, E. 2017. “Is It Safe to Have Multiple Repeat Cesarean Sections? A High Volume Tertiary Care Center Experience.” Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 33(5): 1074–1079.
Black, Mairead & Sohinee Bhattacharya. 2018. “Cesarean Section in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong— A Safe Choice for Women and Clinicians?” PLOS Medicine 15(10): 1-3.
Caijing. 2019. “卫健委：全国剖宫产率为36.7% 积极推广分娩镇痛.” Caijing , May 27 http://economy.caijing.com.cn/20190527/4591594.shtml [5.31.19].
Hellerstein, Susan Celia. 2011. “Cesarean Delivery in China Analysis of Cesarean Deliveries Without Indication.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: 20s.
McNeil, Donald. 2017. “Study Finds Lower, but Still High, Rate of C-Sections in China.” New York Times, Jan 9 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/health/c-section-births-china.html [6.2.19].
Wang, Eileen. 2017. “Requests for Cesarean Deliveries: The Politics of Labor Pain and Pain Relief in Shanghai, China.” Social Science and Medicine (173): 1–8.
WHO. 2015. “WHO statement on caesarean section rates.” World Health Organization, April https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_perinatal_health/cs-statement/en/ [6.2.19].
Wolf, Jacqueline H. 2018. Cesarean Section – An American History of Risk, Technology, and Consequence. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Featured image by Sohu News.
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What Are Weibo’s “Super Topics”?
Explaining Weibo’s “Super Topics”
Over the past year, Weibo’s so-called “Super Topics” (超级话题) have become more popular on the social media platform as online spaces for people to connect and share information.
Weibo’s “super topic” function has been around since 2016. The function allows Weibo users to create and join interest-based content community pages that are online groups separated from the main Weibo space. One could perhaps compare these Weibo Super Groups to ‘mega-threads’ or ‘subreddits’ on Reddit.
These are the most important things to know about Weibo’s Super Topics:
#1 A Super Topic is Not the Same as a Hashtag
Similar to Twitter, hashtags make it possible for Weibo users to tag a topic they are addressing in their post so that their content pops up whenever other people search for that hashtag.
Different from Twitter, Weibo hashtags also have their own page where the hashtag is displayed on top, displaying how many people have viewed the hashtag, how many comments the hashtag is tagged in, and allowing users to share the hashtag page with others.
A Super Topic goes beyond the hashtag. It basically is a community account where all sort of information is shared and organized. People can ‘follow’ (关注) a Super Topic and can also ‘sign in’ (签到).
On the main page of every Super Topic page, the main subject or purpose of the super topic is briefly explained, and the number of views, followers, and posts are displayed.
A super topic-page can be created by any Weibo user and can have up to three major hosts, and ten sub-hosts. The main host(s) can decide which content will be featured as essential, they can place sticky notes, and post links to suggested topics.
#2 A Super Topic Is a Way to Organize Content
Super Topic pages allow hosts to organize relevant content in the way they want. Besides the comment area, the page consists of multiple tabs.
A tab right underneath the main featured information on the page, for example, shows the “sticky posts” (置顶帖) that the host(s) of the page have placed there, linking to relevant information or trending hashtag pages. Below the sticky notes, all the posts posted in the Super Topic community are displayed.
One of the most important tabs within the Super Topic page is called “essential content” (精花), which only shows the content that is manually selected by the host(s). This is often where opinion pieces, articles, official news, or photos, etc. are collected and separated from all the other posts.
Another tab is the “Hall of Fame” (名人堂), which mainly functions as a reference page. It features links to the personal Weibo pages of the super topic page host(s), links to the Weibo pages of top contributors, and shows a list of the biggest fans of the Super Topic. Who the biggest fan of the page is, is decided by the number of consecutive days a person has “checked-in” on the page.
#3 Super Topics Are a Place for Fans to Gather
Although a Super Topic could basically be about anything, from cities to products or hobbies, Super Topics are often created for Chinese celebrities, video games, football clubs, or TV dramas.
Through Super Topic pages, a sense of community can be created. People can be ranked for being the most contributive or for checking in daily, and comment on each other’s posts, making it a home base for many fan clubs across China.
The host(s) can also help somebody’s page (e.g. a celebrity account) grow by proposing them to others within the group.
Super Groups are ranked on Weibo based on their popularity. This also gives fans more reason to stay active in the group, making their Super Topic top ranking within their specific category (TV drama, food, photography, sports, games, etc).
What makes the Super Topic group more ‘private’ than the common Weibo area, is that people posting within the Super Topic can decide whether or not they also want their comment shared on their own Weibo page or not. If they choose not to, their comments or posts will only be visible within the Super Topic community.
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