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“Why Aren’t You Getting Married?” – China’s Marriage Rates Keep Dropping

China’s marriage rates have hit a new low, but Weibo’s singletons blame their unmarried status on circumstances beyond their control.

Manya Koetse

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China’s dropping marriage rates have been a hot topic in Chinese newspapers and on Chinese social media recently. Chinese netizens and state media, however, seem to have different views on what lies at the root of the matter.

“Marriage rates are dropping year by year,” state media outlet People’s Daily writes on Weibo this week: “Statistics show that more and more people are less willing to get married every year (..). Experts point out that younger people are more focused on themselves and how they feel, rather than how they appear to others.”

“At the same time,” People’s Daily continues: “Marriage is no longer the sole option to obtain economic independence and a happy life for young people. Additionally, with the continuous development of societal standards, the costs of marriage have gone up, and many people don’t want to marry.”

With its social media post, People’s Daily introduced the Weibo hashtag “Why Aren’t You Getting Married?” (#你为啥不结婚#), which had received over 22 million views a day after it was posted.

Over recent weeks, many Chinese media have reported on how China’s marriage rates have hit a new low since 2013, with only 7.2 out of 1000 people getting married in 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Marriage rates [per 1000 population] since 2008 (via China Business Industry Research Data Center 中商业产业研究大数据库).

With a rapidly aging population and dropping birth rates, China’s falling marriage rates are a source of worry for many experts.

In 2015, some well-known scholars already urged Chinese younger generations to get married and produce offspring, writing: “For the country, for society, for parents, can’t you let go a bit of personal happiness?”

The only places where the marriage rates are still going somewhat strong are in some of China’s more impoverished areas, including Tibet, Qinghai, Anhui, and Guizhou, suggesting that there’s a clear correlation between the rise in living standards and declining marriage rates.

Although Chinese state media outlets, such as People’s Daily, Xinhua, or China Women’s Daily, do mention the rising costs of living and the fact that many among Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” with some not marrying at all, they do not mention other reasons that might explain the recent decline in marriage rates.

 

Leftover Men, Leftover Women, and Rising Bride Prices

 

Over recent years, various trends on Chinese social media have highlighted the existing social issues behind China’s dropping marriage rates. In 2015, it was China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men who were 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.

The fact that one survey, albeit small-scale, pointed out that 50% of Chinese single men think that women who are still single at the age of 25 are ‘leftovers’ might also not be helpful in boosting marriage rates.

image by whatsonweibo.com

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.

And then there is the issue of staggering bride prices in those areas where ‘bride prices’ are still a custom: within a timeframe of 17 years, bride prices in China’s rural areas have increased more than sixty-fold. For many unmarried men in some Chinese provinces, marriage has simply become an unattainable goal.

All in all, with a surplus of (rural) men, more (urban) educated, career-oriented women, strong traditional views on the ‘right’ marriage age for women, a higher cost of living, and a rising bride price for the relatively few women of marriage age in rural areas, it is perhaps too easy to say that postponing marriage is simply a matter of ‘choice’ or ‘preference’ for China’s younger generations.

 

Changing Policies

 

The many comments on Weibo to the question “Why Aren’t You Getting Married?” also show that there is no straightforward answer to China’s dropping marriage rates, and that’s it is not merely a matter of preference.

“You first propagated for years that we were supposed to ‘get married late and give birth late’ (晚婚晚育) in addition to ‘fewer and healthier births’ (少生优生), now you change your tune and we’re to blame?” one popular comment says.

At the time of the one-child policy, propaganda posters and state media encouraged people to postpone marriage and childbirth in order to help control China’s population growth. Various policies were introduced to make people marry later. The ‘late marriage leave,’ for example, allowed people to take a 30-day paid leave when getting married over the age of 25. That particular policy was canceled in 2016.

The aforementioned commenter is not the only one showing their frustration with changing policies on marriage and childbirth. “[I’m not married] because the government first told us to marry late and have children late,” another netizen writes: “I’m just being obedient.”

Similar sentiments were also expressed after the one-child policy was canceled, allowing couples, or even encouraging them, to have a second child. “The person who was forced to have an abortion then, is the same person who is pressured to have a baby now,” some people on Weibo said.

With some people joking that the government will arrange things for them anyway, their answer to the marriage question is: “I am waiting for the state to assign me to someone.”

“I am waiting for the state to bring me a handsome man. I’ve been searching for him all over, but can’t find him anywhere,” others say.

Apart from these comments, the most recurring answers to why people are not married yet include the following:

– “Young people doing 996 [working from 9am-9pm, 6 days a week] don’t have time for love and raising children.”

– “Why would I get married, I’m getting along fine by myself.”

– “I can’t afford a house, can’t afford to raise kids, can’t afford to get married.”

– “Get married if you like, stay single if you like, in the end, we’ll all regret it anyway.”

The most recurring and upvoted comments were also the shortest ones: “Because I’m poor.”

Meanwhile, on Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, it seems that some are making a profit out of the dreaded “Why aren’t you married” question. Various sellers are selling phone covers and t-shirts with the question printed on it. The answer, underneath, is loud and clear: “Mind your own damn business.”

Also read: Mirror of Time: Chinese Weddings Through the Decades

By Manya Koetse

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

©2019 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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China Insight

Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang

Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.

Manya Koetse

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Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.

The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.

People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.

The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.

Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.

Mobile phone sidewalk in Chonqgqing. Source https://tech.qq.com

As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.

In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.

“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”

“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”

For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”

Also read: The ‘Bowed Head Clan’ (低头族): Mother Watches Phone While Son Drowns in Pool

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Jialing Xie.

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

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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