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.
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.
Parents 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” (想反逼婚，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.
– by Manya Koetse
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BBC. 2012. “Ageing China: Changes and Challenges.” BBC News, 19 September http://www.bbc.com/news/world-
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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Single Female Blogger Dreads Parental Pressure, Collects Stories to Highlight Dangers of Rushing into Marriage
A recent initiative by a Weibo blogger aims to prove that nothing good comes from marriage pressure.
It is a recurring topic every year when Chinese New Year is about to start: the pressure China’s bachelors and bachelorettes face when they return home to spend time with their families, who will inevitably ask them when they will settle down and get married.
This pressure is especially real for China’s unmarried daughters; those who are single in their late twenties and early thirties are soon labeled as ‘leftover women’ (剩女 shèngnǚ), which became a catchphrase ever since the Chinese Ministry of Education listed it as one of the newest additions to the 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 prevailing beliefs about the right age to marry.
One 2015 survey by Chinese dating site ‘Zhenai’ showed that 50% of Chinese men think that women who are still single at the age of 25 are ‘leftovers,’ and many Chinese parents urge their daughters to get married before that happens.
“She returned home to visit her parents, and then committed suicide there by jumping off a building.”
This year, some single ladies, while planning their upcoming trip to their hometowns to celebrate the Spring Festival, are already mentally preparing for the nagging questions they will be confronted with once they come home.
One of them is the Chinese blogger nicknamed ‘Little Deer-Loving Forest’ (@爱麋鹿的小森林), who recently asked her followers for help in convincing her relatives that nothing good comes from rushing into marriage; she asked them to share the (news) stories of women who were pushed to get married, and then experienced hardships and suffering because of it.
By mid-January, within three days after she first posted her request, Weibo users had already shared dozens of news links and stories detailing the horrific accounts of women who had married to escape the pressure put on them by their families. By now, the blogger’s post itself has been reposted nearly 70,000 times.
One of the many stories was that of a young woman in Linquan county in Fuyuan, who attempted to commit suicide in the summer of 2018 after being pressured into marriage. The woman was so burdened by the pressure she faced, that she had jumped into a river. A bystander was able to alert the authorities, who were able to rescue her.
Some also share stories from their own social circles, with one commenter from Guangdong writing that a friend of her friend was also pushed to get married: “He had money, a house, and a car, but he was working night shifts in a convenience store. Turned out he was actually gay and that she ended up in a ‘fake marriage.'”
“A girl in my hometown was in her thirties and single. Her parents insisted she had to marry a man who had been married before [it was his second marriage]. I’m not sure if it was three weeks or three months after the wedding, but she returned home to visit her parents, and then committed suicide there by jumping off a building. Don’t blindly get married.”
“You are all my comrades in this campaign!”
‘Little Deer’ shared her plans on keeping a collection of these stories to post on her ‘WeChat Moments’ page every day during the Chinese New Year, to show her family what could potentially happen when women are rushed into marriage.
Many commenters praised the blogger’s initiative, writing: “I need to save this post!! It’ll be very useful during Chinese New Year!” “Exactly what I needed, thank you, everyone! You are all my comrades in this campaign, I feel very supported with all of you out there. Let’s go square dancing together when we are old!”
Others, however, were less enthusiastic and pointed out that they had tried this method before, but that their parents weren’t buying it, saying that these type of “irrelevant stories” had “nothing to do with them.”
Single men also joined the debate with many requesting the original poster to gather news stories detailing the negative outcomes for men who had been pressured to get married.
One of these stories is that of a 26-year-old man from Wuhan, who was diagnosed with severe depression after his mother had continuously urged him to marry.
By now, Little Deer’s post has also inspired people to discuss other subjects involving family pressure, asking: “Are there any stories about being pushed to have kids?” This request led to some expressing concerns about the post itself being censored: “Will this be deleted by Sina, as it’s against our current national policy of encouraging people to get married and have kids?”
“Why are you sending me these useless things?”
In early 2019, China launched a new ‘Individual Income‘ tax deduction method, which, among other things, allows children’s education expenses to be deducted before tax. Because those who are unmarried and without children will pay relatively more taxes, these parts of the personal income tax have been nicknamed ‘single’s tax’ (单身税) and ‘no children’s tax’ (不孕不育税) on social media.
These measures, along with other examples (such as the cancellation of the ‘late marriage leave‘), show the government’s efforts to combat China’s dropping birthrates, indirectly encouraging people to get married and have children.
According to a report released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in 2018, marriage registration numbers have been dropping in China, showing that more people are putting off marriage or are getting married at a later age – something that is especially visible in the 30-34 age group.
Some analysts believe that a higher level of education and the rising cost of living have contributed to the tendency to marry and have children at a later age.
For now, it is not clear if the blogger’s initiative is actually effective for those dreading going home for Chinese New Year. Dozens of commenters are posting their parents’ reaction upon sending them the links to the unfortunate stories of those who were rushed into marriage. “Why are you sending me these useless things,” some parents said, with another chat screenshot showing a parent writing: “Send me something positive!”
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Wu Xiubo Scandal Blows up on Chinese Social Media
One of the biggest celebrity scandals in years, involving Chinese actor Wu Xiubo, has become all the talk on Weibo this week.
“Are there any good guys left in the Chinese entertainment industry?” This is a question that is currently trending on Chinese social media (#娱乐圈好男人#). By Sunday night, the hashtag had already received over 350 million views and thousands of comments on Weibo, within a time frame of just one day.
Other hashtags that are flooding Weibo are “Female in Wu Xiubo Love Affair Gate is Detained” (#吴秀波出轨门女主被拘捕#), which has already gathered some 850 million views (!) on Weibo at time of writing. “Chen Yulin’s Parents Send an Open Letter” (#陈昱霖父母发公开信#) received over 410 million clicks.
The current trend is all about the scandal involving Beijing-born actor and musician Wu Xiubo (吴秀波, 1968), who recently had his former mistress Chen Yulin arrested for blackmailing him. She could potentially face up to ten years in prison. Wu is famous for, among others, his performance in the popular TV series Angel Heart (心术, 2012) and his role in the hit movie Finding Mr. Right (北京遇上西雅图, 2013).
The Background Story
To understand the story, and why it is blowing up, we need to go back to September of 2018, when Wu Xiubo (吴秀波), who has been married since 2002 and is the father of two children, was rumored to have been involved in a total of five different extra-marital affairs.
Although there were earlier rumors circulating online about Wu allegedly being involved in extra-marital sex with young women, the story triggered mass attention when an anonymous poster, who was later identified as Chinese actress and singer Chen Yulin, wrote down the history of her alleged love affair with Wu Xiubo in her WeChat Moments.
Chinese actress and singer Chen Yulin (陈昱霖), also known as Ruby Chen, entered the entertainment business in 2006, after participating in the CCTV programme Avenue of Stars (星光大道). Ever since, she has been making a career as a singer and an actress, but her real fame only started after exposing her affair with Wu Xiubo.
In her lengthy Wechat posts, Chen claimed to have been involved with the Chinese actor for approximately seven years. She described the relationship as being one where Wu exercised control over her by forbidding her from accepting certain jobs and persuading her to be a good house-wife. She also accused Wu of “brainwashing” her into practicing Buddhism, and to have behaved violently with her at certain occasions.
Her later posts alleged that in 2013 and 2017, she received messages from other women who were supposedly also sexually involved with Wu, one of them being the actress Zhang Zhixi (张芷溪) who co-starred with the actor during the production of the 2016 Chinese TV series The Advisors Alliance (军师联盟). She claimed the entire ordeal was to blame for her depression.
Wu, nor his management, responded to the allegations at the time, although his career and reputation as one of China’s best “middle-aged actors” (演技派大叔) were severely affected by the scandal.
The Scandal Blows Up
Although Chen Yulin never officially responded to the issue, a social media post by Chen’s parents of January 18 this year triggered discussions all over Weibo.
The post was published on Chen’s official Weibo account “on behalf of Chen’s mother and father.” In this statement, not only do Chen’s parents confirm that their daughter was the one who posted on WeChat in 2018, they also claim that Wu and his legal team had requested Chen to deny the allegations she had made against Wu, and had promised her to financially compensate her for doing so.
After the arrangement was agreed upon, the post writes, Chen decided to stay abroad for a while to stay out of the limelight. In November of 2018, Wu then called Chen to ask her to return to mainland China to settle their agreement.
The moment Chen landed at Beijing airport on November 5th of 2018, however, she was arrested by local Beijing police. Wu had reported her to the police for “blackmailing” and a “violation of privacy.” If Chen is found guilty, she could face up to ten years in jail.
Later, Chen’s parents also posted screenshots on Weibo to verify the authenticity of the love affair. The screenshots show messages between Wu and Chen, where Wu’s nickname is “AAA my dear husband” (AAA 我亲爱的老公).
Chen’s parents claim they have pleaded Wu multiple times to drop the charges, but never received a response.
An Online Storm
As the scandal is taking on biblical proportions, Wu’s wife, He Zhenya (何震亚), also came forward with a statement on January 19 through Wu Xiubo’s Weibo account (演员吴秀波工作室). The statement claims that Wu’s family has faced threats and blackmailing for the past year and a half, during which the demanded sum of money went from millions to billions of yuan.
Wu Xiubo’s management also posted a signed statement from Wu’s lawyer to Weibo, declaring that Chen did, in fact, blackmail the actor, and that her allegations are false.
Meanwhile, the scandal has flooded Weibo with comments from every corner, with public opinion about the case growing stronger and stronger. Businessman Wang Sicong, the son of one of the richest men in China, posted several times on his account, calling Wu Xiubo out for being “evil” and “trash.”
Although many people side with Chen in this case, claiming that she is the most vulnerable in this affair, there are also those who side with Wu and think that Chen is a gold digger who took advantage of the actor.
Digging up online evidence that supposedly shows that Chen has been leading a life of luxury of the past years, many netizens conclude that the actress has since long been profiting from Wu’s money. Chen’s mother denied these claims.
But there are also many who are simply disappointed with the fact that Wu allegedly had (multiple) relationships outside of his marriage. “Are there still any good guys left in the entertainment industry?” is a question that is recurringly popping up in light of a string of celebrity scandals that have hit China’s entertainment scene over previous years.
Wu Xiubo memes are also trending on Chinese social media, with one of the most popular ones saying: “Want a love affair? You may end up in jail (谈恋爱吗 要坐牢那种)”.
For now, Chen is still being detained and awaiting her trial. Her parents express their hopes for a “fair” trial that will bring “justice” for their daughter.
By Boyu Xiao, with contributions by Manya Koetse
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