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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 editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. 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 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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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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