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Not ‘Leftover Women’ but ‘Leftover Men’ Are China’s Real Problem

China’s single young women have been put in the spotlight by Chinese media for years. But the “leftover men” are China’s real problem.

Manya Koetse

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China’s single young women have been put in the spotlight by Chinese media for years. But according to the state-run Xinhua News, it is not the women, but the single men that are China’s real problem.

“Leftover women are no cause for concern – it is the ‘leftover men’ that are China’s real crisis”, Xinhua News and Beijing News write earlier this week.

“Marriage as a traditional institute is of great significance and value, but it should not be the way to measure a woman’s worth in today’s era,” the article states. Although it has been the unmarried young women, often called ‘leftover women’ (shèngnǚ, 剩女), who have been singled out by Chinese media, the article says that it really is the single men, referred to as ‘leftover men‘ (shèngnán, 剩男) that are at the center of China’s “marriage crisis.”

 

“The so-called ‘leftover women crisis’ is not a crisis at all”

 

Statistics point out that for China’s post 1980s generation, there are tens of millions more men than women of marriageable age. At the peak of the disparity in girls and boys births in 2004, 121.2 boys were born for every 100 girls. Nevertheless, the ‘leftover men’ problem has not been covered as much by Chinese media, while ‘leftover women’ have been the targeted by media for years.

The great attention for China’s ‘leftover women’ is because women are perceived differently than men, Xinhua explains. The focus on single women relates to existing ideas in Chinese culture about the ‘ideal’ marriage age for women (25-28 years old). When a woman is still not married in her late twenties or early thirties, she is already considered a spinster. Single men often do not suffer the same familial and societal pressure as the shengnü, and are less stigmatized in the media. Generally, it is more acceptable for men to get married at an advanced age.

The ‘shengnü phenomenon’ has turned into a public issue: as these single women are postponing marriage and family life, it gets more difficult for China’s unmarried men to find a wife. The leftover women phenomenon has therefore also been labeled a ‘shengnü crisis’ (Koetse, forthcoming).

But, Beijing News writes, if you leave the gender bias aside, the so-called ‘leftover women crisis’ is not a crisis at all. If one looks at China’s single women and single men, there is a huge gap in their background and situation. The ‘leftover woman’ generally refers to a relatively successful “urban, professional female in her late twenties or older who is still single” (Fincher 2014, 2), who has the “three highs” (三高): high income, high education and high IQ. But ‘leftover men’ are at the other side of the social spectrum, as they generally have the so-called “three lows” (三低): low income, low education and low IQ.

If China’s ‘leftover women’ get married late or do not get married at all, they will still be capable of living a prosperous and decent life by relying on their own abilities and efforts. “Women do not need to establish their societal worth through getting married,” Xinhua writes, therefore concluding that China’s ‘leftover women’ are “nothing to worry about”.

 

“‘Leftover Men’ are an important factor threatening the stability of Chinese society”

 

China’s ‘leftover men’ phenomenon is more worrisome; it is expected that there will be a surplus of 30 million Chinese men of marrying age in 2020. This suggests that one in five men will not be able to find a bride (Lake 2012): a potential crisis.

The ‘leftover men’ and the Xinhua article have become a hot topic on Sina Weibo under the hashtag of “the leftover men crisis” (#剩男才是危机#). “It seems that the majority of the ‘leftover men’ are losers,” Weibo user Lili Zhouzhou says: “They are an important factor threatening the stability of Chinese society. That is why they require our attention.”

Many Weibo netizens argue for more attention for China’s ‘leftover men problem’: “This is a topic that really interests me,” user Sisi writes: “In this patriarchal society, it is always women who are targeted when it comes down to marriage. The standard of success for men is measured by their career, for women being successful means being married. This way of thinking is not in line with our current society. If we measure a man’s success by also weighing in marriage, and measure a woman’s success by also weighing in her career, then we can come to a more equal value system of measuring success”.

“The marriage market is cruel,” user Huangxiaoguzai28 says. “The topic of ‘leftovers’ surely is biased, but men are only left behind on the marriage market for one reason: because they are not good enough, and cannot live up to the requirements.” Another user adds: “It seems that the majority of single women are single because their standards are too high, and the majority of single men are single because there are too many single women with high standards.”

 

“In this world, nobody is ‘leftover’ by being unmarried”

 

Although many Weibo users propagate more media focus on ‘leftover men’, there are also many who dislike the term. But no matter what you call them, the unmarried men of China are a very real problem, that has mostly emerged as a consequence to China’s one-child policy and the traditional preference for boys, that have led to illegal sex-selective abortions.

China has an abnormal absence of women compared to other countries. The government has realized that the surplus of men is forming a real problem, and is reviewing its policies. Sex selective abortions have been illegal in China for over a decade, and clinics and hospitals are tightly controlled now. The Chinese government has launched several propaganda campaigns to convince citizens girls are just as good as boys (such as the 2003 “Care for Girls” campaign) (Hudson 2010, 72).

It is also expected that China’s one-child policy will soon turn into a ‘two-child policy‘. For many couples, those of ethnic minority or those living in rural areas, it was already possible to have a second child if their firstborn is a girl.

Although these policies are promising for China’s new generations, the post 80s men will still have to deal with their single status and lack of women. Many of China’s single men therefore resort to paying for wives from other Asian countries, such as Vietnam or North Korea.

Weibo user Jay calls for the altogether abandonment of the ‘leftover’ term: “What’s the use of applying these ‘leftover men’ and ‘leftover women’ terms? In this world, nobody is ‘leftover’ by being unmarried. Marriage is not a way to measure people by.”

By Manya Koetse

References

– Fincher, Leta Hong. 2014. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. London & New York: Zed Books.
– Hudson, Valerie. 2010. “The Missing Girls of China and India: What is Being Done.” Cumberland Law Review 41:67-78.
– Koetse, Manya [forthcoming]. “From Woman Warrior to Good Wife – Confucian Influences on the Portrayal of Women in China’s Television Drama.” In Stefania Travagnin (ed), Religion and Media in China. New York: Routledge.
– 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).
– Xinhua News. 2015. ““剩女”不足为虑,“剩男”才是危机.” Xinhua News, July 27, http://news.xinhuanet.com/comments/2015-07/27/c_1116044841.htm [28.07.15].

– Image by Manya Koetse, Beijing.

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bree

    September 22, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you for this artical. It’s so annoying how women in China are shoved into the spotlight and considered the biggest blame. No one ever blames men, men never have to take the heat and men are 50% of the problem or if so more of the problem considering there’s significantly more of them. I guess it’s a male dominated country and men can cower and hide behind their patriarchy -_-”
    I personally believe the main cause of the problem is both genders being too picky. Men are looking for walking perfection to clean up after them, be silent and sexually available at all time and women are looking for a man who has a rich and successful family.

    • Avatar

      sinophobic

      December 10, 2016 at 1:51 am

      everything you said is the complete opposite of what was said in the article but ok keep telling yourself racist white lies.

  2. Avatar

    whzzman

    November 27, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Well, what will these left over women will do their eggs ?
    Ask the left over men to use them ?

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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse

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On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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