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China Sex & Gender

Pressured to get Married: For the Country and For Society

Every year, China’s bachelors and bachelorettes are dreading the return to their hometowns, as parents and family members will inescapably ask them that one question: “Why are you not married yet?” This year, a group of Chinese young women protested in the streets of Shanghai against marriage pressure.

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Chinese New Year and the pressure to get married: it has already become an ‘old’ topic. Every year, China’s bachelors and bachelorettes are dreading the return to their hometowns, as parents and family members will inescapably ask them that one question: “Why are you not married yet?” This year, a group of Chinese young women protested in Shanghai against their parents pressuring them to marry, holding signs saying: “Mum, please do not force me to get married during New Year, I’m in charge of my own happiness.” The women became a hot topic amongst netizens and authors, reigniting the online discussion about the status quo of China’s unmarried adults. “Coming back to your hometown saying you don’t want to be pressured into marriage is like going to the dog meat festival saying you don’t want to eat dog,” says writer Mao Li. 

 mum!Protest in Shanghai against marriage pressure, February 4, 2015 (Qingdao News).

 

The Shengnü and Shengnan ‘problem’

 

The term ‘shengnü’ (剩女 ‘leftover woman’) has been a somewhat derogatory catch phrase in China’s media for years. It refers to women who are still single at the age of 27 or above; usually well-educated ladies who have difficulties in finding a partner that can live up to their expectations. Their disadvantage in finding a partner relates to existing ideas in Chinese culture about the ‘ideal’ marriage age of women. A recent survey has pointed out that 50% of Chinese men already consider a women ‘left over’ when she is not married at the age of 25.

The male counterpart of the shengnü is the so-called ‘shengnan’ (剩男, ‘leftover man’). Chinese men face great difficulties in finding a bride, as Mainland China has been faced with an unbalanced male-female ratio since the 1980s. At the peak of disparity in 2004, more than 121 boys were born for every 100 girls. One explanation for this imbalance is the traditional preference for boys and sex-selective abortions since the one-child policy was introduced in 1978. According to estimations, there currently are 20 million more men than women under the age of 30 (Luo & Sun 2014, 5; Chen 2011, 2).

The abundance of both single women and men in present-day China would suggest that there is hardly a problem: why don’t they just get married? Problematically, the majority of China’s unmarried women are twenty-somethings who live in urban areas and are at the ‘high end’ of the societal ladder (relatively high income and education), whereas the majority of the shengnan are based in rural areas and are at the ‘lower end’ (lower income/education). Since Chinese women traditionally prefer to ‘marry up’ in terms of age, income and education, and the men usually ‘marry down’, the men and women find themselves at the wrong ends of the ladder (Ding & Xu 2015, 114).

 

China needs a babyboom

 

“Get married soon and have lots of babies,” says Huang Wenzheng, activist and one-child policy opponent (Qi 2014). China is currently facing a rapid decline in births. At the same time, the population is ageing. It is estimated that over 25% of Chinese people will be 65 years and older in 2050, leaving the burden of care to younger generations (BBC 2012). Getting Chinese bachelors and bachelorettes to marry and produce children has thus gone beyond the wish for a wedding banquet and cute grandchildren – it has become an important matter to society.

According to recent statistics, 80% of China’s bachelors and bachelorettes over the age of 24 experience pressure by their families to get married when they go home for the holiday period. The festival is now even nicknamed the “marriage pressure holiday” (催婚假期). After Chinese New Year, there generally is a 40% increase in blind dates. These meetings are often arranged by the parents, who attend ‘blind date events’ for their single sons or daughters. Many parents gather in public parks over the weekend, carrying banners with the picture and details of their unmarried child in the hopes of finding a suitable marriage partner for them.

122316309_21nParents looking for a suitable partner for their single sons and daughter (Xinhua). 

 

“Don’t oppose to marriage pressure if you’re a loser”

 

Well-known scholar Yang Zao (杨早) responds to this topic on Tencent’s Dajia (‘Everybody’, a media platform for authors), with an essay titled “Pressured to Get Married: For the Country, For Society” (为了国家,为了社会,逼你结婚). Yang is the third author to discuss the New Year’s marriage pressure and the Shanghai girls who want to take their love life into their own hands. The other two columns are by female writer Mao Li (毛利), who wrote an essay titled “Prove You’re Not a Loser Before Opposing Marriage Pressure” (反逼婚,先证明你不是废物), and columnist Zhang Shi (张石), whose piece is called “China’s ‘Pressured-Married’ and Japan’s ‘Non-Married””(中国的“逼婚”和日本的“不婚”). Yang analyses the current debate on marriage, wondering if it is so controversial because society is pressuring it more or because unmarried adults are opposing it more.

Parents put more pressure on their children to get married, and children increasingly oppose to it, says Mao Li. According to her, both sides make sense, but it is the children who have to explain their point-of-view; why would their parents understand them? Those who were born in the 1980s and 1990s come from completely different times than their mothers and fathers, who suffered many hardships to get where they are today. Mao Li compares the way they raised their children to a farmer raising his crops: planting seeds, watering the fields and creating the right environment to grow. Now that the children are grown up and have left the family home, the logical step for them would be to get married – after all, their parents worked hard to build the right conditions for them to do so. They should not be surprised when their parents urge them to get settled. “Coming back to your hometown saying you oppose to marriage pressure is like coming to the dog meat festival saying you oppose to eating dog,” Mao says: “You can’t expect people to comprehend it.” According to Mao, children can only oppose to marriage pressure when they are completely independent. They cannot oppose to marriage and still cling to their parents for financial support. “Prove you’re not a loser before opposing to marriage pressure,” she says.

Writer Zhang Shi approaches the issue from another perspective; that of society. In Japan, fertility rates have sharply decreased. While society is ageing, the lack of young workers causes economic problems. In order not to end up with the same problems as Japan, China has to get the marriages coming and birth rates going, argues Zhang. Parents who are forcing their children to get married are actually contributing to society, says Zhang: it is a ‘warm advice’, not a cold pressure. In an age of declining birthrates, urging people to have babies is a “social responsibility”.

 

“For the country, for society, for parents, can’t you let go a bit of ‘personal happiness’?”

 

The pressure to get married is ingrained in social ideology and China’s traditional family ethics, says Yang Zao. The problems that now emerge within society come from a clash between individualist and collectivist values. Chinese society cannot be a perfect mix of both individualism and collectivism, according to Yang: “It is either one, and both will have downsides.” If China wants a liberal, individual-focused society, then its “evils” will have to be accepted too: some people will marry late, some will not marry at all, some will not have kids, others will go job-hopping, some people move from city to city and never settle down. Such a society will also generate low birth rates and an ageing society.

In a collective, family-focused society, the ageing crisis and declining birth rates could be halted. Parents would not have to go to public parks to search for suitable partners for their unmarried kids. “For the country, for society, for parents, can’t you let go a bit of personal happiness’?”, says Yang. After all, isn’t marriage key to solving China’s present-day problems?

Since 1950, marriage officially is a ‘freedom of choice’ in Mainland China. Nevertheless, marriage in China still seems to involve more than two people: it is a get-together of two families with societal backing. One Weibo user says: “The shengnü do not have an individual problem; they are a problem because society at large believes they have a problem – this is why it is a ‘problem’.”

No matter what the ‘nation’, ‘society’, or parents think, the protesting Shanghai girls are positive about their future: it is in their hands, and in their hands alone.

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– by Manya Koetse

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References

BBC. 2012. “Ageing China: Changes and Challenges.” BBC News, 19 September http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-19630110 (16.10.12).

Chen, Zhou. 2011. “The Embodiment of Transforming Gender and Class: Shengnü and Their Media Representations in Contemporary China.” Master’s thesis, University of Kansas.

Ding, Min and Jie Xu. 2015. The Chinese Way. Routledge: New York.

Luo, Wei, and Zhen Sun. 2014. “Are You the One? China’s TV Dating Shows and the Sheng Nü’s Predicament.” Feminist Media Studies, October: 1–18.

Mao Li 毛利. “想反逼婚,先证明你不是废物” [Prove You’re Not a Loser Before Opposing Marriage Pressure]. Dajia, 11 February http://dajia.qq.com/blog/466362096792665 [24.2.15].

Qi, 2014. “Baby Boom or Economy Bust.” The Wall Street Journal, 2 September http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/09/02/baby-boom-or-economy-bust-stern-warnings-about-chinas-falling-fertility-rate/ [24.2.15].

Yang Zao 杨早. 2015. “为了国家,为了社会,逼你结婚”  [Pressured to Get Married: For the Country, For Society]. Dajia, 17 February http://dajia.qq.com/blog/431261063359665 [24.2.15].

Zhang Shi 张石. 2015. “中国的“逼婚”和日本的“不婚” [China’s ‘Pressured-Married’ and Japan’s ‘Non-Married’]. Dajia, 16 February http://dajia.qq.com/blog/462372023502987 [24.2.15].

Image by Tencent Dajia, 2015. 

 

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©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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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China Sex & Gender

Footage from Inside the “Virtue Class for Women” Stirs Controversy on Weibo

“Obedience is the core value for women,” is a message that is being propagated in “female virtue classes.”

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In 2017, news of a “female virtue class” (女德班) taking place in Fushun, Liaoning province, triggered controversy in China when it was exposed that young women were taught to conform to sexist stereotypes. That “female virtue class” was ordered to shut down after it made headlines.

But now, the same class taking place in Wenzhou has become the talk of the day on Chinese social media, as footage from inside the class made its way around Weibo and Wechat. Chinese media outlet Pear Video reported the news.

The class, with 56 students from 5 up to 18 years old (44 female), reportedly took place in August of this year during a Summer Camp on “traditional culture.”

This is the video with footage from an insider attending the ‘Summer Camp’, by Pear Video (no subtitles):

Just as in Fushun, girls in Wenzhou were also taught that men are superior to women, that married women should obey their husbands and not talk or hit back, and that wearing revealing clothing will lead to rape.

The video also shows that ‘obedience’ was presented as being a core value for women, along with filial piety.

These views often pop up on social media. Also in 2017, a university lecture by Ding Xuan, an alleged expert on China’s women’s issues, stirred controversy on Weibo after her statements on female chastity went viral. According to Ding Xuan, “being a virgin is the best gift for a husband.”

Classes such as these are often presented as being “traditional culture” training.

On Weibo, the hashtag “Female virtue class for minors” (#未成年人女德班#) has received over 110 million views at time of writing, with thousands of netizens condemning the message that these students are being taught. “It’s 2018 now, how can you still have these kinds of fools?!”, a popular Weibo comment said.

“It’s scary that parents would let their children participate in these classes,” others wrote. “The worst part is that people actually believe this.” “What era are we living in?!”, many commented.

As this topic is currently going trending, it is yet unclear if these classes are still being taught to students, or if they, again, have been ordered to shut down.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Health

Let’s Talk about Sex, Grandpa: HIV on the Rise among China’s Elderly Men

There’s a sharp rise in HIV among Chinese elderly men, partly caused by a general lack of HIV & safe sex awareness.

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First published

HIV among China’s elderly is a growing problem; it is mostly older men who get infected with HIV through extramarital sex. Their knowledge regarding safe sex is often lacking.

As it is World AIDS Day on December 1st, and while major discussions on the alleged first gene-edited babies immune to HIV are still top trending, other noteworthy HIV-related news is also gaining a lot of attention on Chinese social media these days.

At time of writing, more than 220 million people have viewed the Weibo hashtag “Number of Elderly AIDS Cases on the Rise” (#老年艾滋病病例上升#). The hashtag has emerged amidst news reports that there is a significant rise in the number of HIV cases among the elderly in China, particularly among men.

According to an article published on Weibo by Chinese news outlet The Paper, the number of known cases of HIV among Chinese men above the age of 60 has risen from 8391 cases in 2012 to 19815 cases in 2017.

One WeChat blogger’s response to the rise in number of HIV cases among Chinese elderly men (脊梁in上海).

On November 27, the Hangzhou Center for Disease Control and Prevention (杭州市疾控中心) released news information relating to the problems of the rising cases of HIV and AIDS among the elderly.

In the city of Hangzhou, the detection of HIV among patients who are over 50 years old has doubled over the past three years.

According to a specialist from the Hangzhou center, this rise of HIV has to do with the limited HIV awareness among elderly communities, and with the fact that they are often not accustomed to using condoms.

Extramarital heterosexual sex is the main way of transmission for elderly men, with some also getting HIV because of homosexual sex. For elderly women, marital sex is the main way of transmission.

Because they are often late in seeking medical treatment when they feel unwell, the detection of HIV is often late, which makes that there is a relatively high number of AIDS-related deaths among elderly patients.

The problem of the rising number of HIV patients among China’s elderly population has received more scholarly attention of the past few years. According to a 2014 study by Tang et al, the sharp rise of HIV among elderly became more visible after 2010. In 2011, people over the age of 60 accounted for 28.4% of the total HIV cases Guangxi province (this was 18.7% in 2009).

A study in Nanning, capital of Guangxi, found that heterosexual transmission accounted for 90% of HIV cases among those over 50 years old, and that low-cost commercial sex venues were a primary site of infection (Tang et al 2014, 2).

The research by Tang et al shows that the use of aphrodisiacs (cheaper alternatives to Viagra, often illegally produced in local workshops) is significantly associated with an increased HIV risk for men over 50 who purchase commercial sex with female prostitutes (3).

One popular WeChat blog explained the reasons behind the problem of HIV among China’s elderly as follows:

1. They see prostitutes because they are seeking ways to fulfill their sexual needs.
2. There is little awareness on HIV or AIDS. (According to one story quoted in the blog, an elderly man who was diagnosed with HIV even told the doctor he had washed himself with detergent every time after he had sex with a prostitute – he “did not understand” how he got infected.)
3. They do not know how to use condoms / they are not accustomed to using condoms.

A man washed himself with detergent after visiting a prostitute.

On Weibo, there are many commenters who show their sympathy for the elderly women who get infected with HIV within their marriage because of their husband’s extramarital sexual behaviors. “How tragic for them,” a popular comment said, while others wonder: “What’s the purpose of marriage then?”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention advises people who have had extramarital sex, homosexual or heterosexual, to get themselves checked on HIV – also if there are people who suspect that their partner might have had sexual encounters outside of the marriage.

“The sex life of the elderly is a sensitive topic, but it needs to be talked about,” well-known lawyer Yi Shenghua (易胜华) writes on Weibo: “If we do not attach importance to the [open] discussion of this topic, the problem of AIDS among China’s eldery will only grow bigger.”

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Tang Z, Wu X, Li G, Shen Z, Zhang H, et al. 2014. “Aphrodisiac Use Associated with HIV Infection in Elderly Male Clients of Low-Cost Commercial Sex Venues in Guangxi, China: A Matched Case-Control Study.” PLOS ONE 9(10): e109452. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0109452.

Photo used in featured image by David Sinclair.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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