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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 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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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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China and Covid19

Tribute to Urumqi at Shanghai’s Wulumqi Road

In Shanghai, people paid tribute to the victims of the Ulumqi fire by lighting candles, and also found other ways to vent their frustrations.

Manya Koetse

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Image by @导筒directube

It has been a restless Saturday night in several places across China. Following the unrest in Urumqi after a devastating fire, various places across the country have seen people gathering, chanting together, and taking their anger to the streets.

There is anger about excessive Covid measures, long lockdowns, and how it has all brought suffering to many people.

One place where people gathered is Shanghai’s Wulumuqi Road, a street named after Urumqi (it is actually ‘Urumqi Road’ but the English name is commonly spelled as Wulumuqi).

In Shanghai, people paid tribute to the victims of the Urumqi fire by lighting candles, but also found other ways to vent frustrations related to the current Covid measures.

Some at the scene, for example, wore face masks with ‘404’ written on them – referring to the recurring online censorship in light of various epidemic-related incidents (404 is the common error code given when a page or file can no longer be found).

They also chanted for “freedom,” told the Covid QR ‘venue codes’ to go f*ck themselves, sang the The Internationale in Chinese, and held up white papers in protest (this has been a recurring sign of protest).

On Weibo, there was a flood of comments related to the Shanghai gathering.

“Don’t let history repeat itself. Please, everybody, protect yourself, go home and rest in time, remember this passion of yours and change your surrounding by following your own goals.”

Although social media users showed support for the protest in Shanghai, a majority of commenters also were worried about people placing themselves in harm’s way, reminding those on the streets to “protect themselves” no matter what.

After 3:00 AM, local time, Weibo shut down live commenting on the Shanghai topic.

On Twitter, Shanghai-based journalist Eva Rammeloo (@eefjerammeloo) reported that around 4:00 am local time, police reinforcement arrived at the scene to disperse the crowds, with some people allegedly being arrested.

“We’re all mourning Urumqi in our own ways,” one person on Weibo commented: “I think you’re really brave.”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse 

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

Featured image by @导筒directube

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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