• Grace Hu

"Leftover Women" and Gender Relations

Photo by 𝚂𝚒𝚘𝚛𝚊 𝙿𝚑𝚘𝚝𝚘𝚐𝚛𝚊𝚙𝚑𝚢 on Unsplash

China’s one-child policy was introduced in 1979, which stipulated that each family was legally limited to having one single child, and included enormous fines for violations (Kan). This resulted in a generation of Chinese people who are predominantly male, many of whom are now in their 20s and currently searching for love (Kan). While this has contributed to an influx of "surplus men" who can't find romantic partners, there has also been a rise in the number of single women ("Rise in China's 'Leftover Women'").

Over in Canada, the average age of one’s first marriage in 2011 was 28 for women (Counter), and has currently risen to 31.9 years old in Quebec ("Census Data"). Although being pressured to marry is a common experience for many women across the world, the stakes are often much higher in Asian countries such as China, where traditional values emphasize the importance of having a descendant to pass on your family's name. As Chinese philosopher Mencius famously said, "There are three ways of being unfilial, and to have no posterity is the greatest of them" (Teon).

Unmarried Chinese women in their late twenties are currently being stigmatized as sheng nu, or "leftover women", and are constantly pressured to get married as soon as possible by their family and friends (DePaulo). Even celebrities are not exempt from the discrimination. On a popular Chinese reality TV show, four single female celebrities were pressured to marry by the hosts, as many as 23 times over the course of only 3 episodes ("TV Show"). Yet more and more, women are putting off marriage in their pursuit of self-actualization--either by focusing their energy on their careers, or spending time on hobbies unrelated to romance ("Rise in China's 'Leftover Women'").

No matter their education level, career opportunities or personal wishes, Chinese women are being pressured to marry young everywhere. Highly educated women with PhD degrees are often jokingly referred to as a "third sex" in popular culture, emphasizing how they’re seen as unattractive and bizarre (DePaulo). Some women have even resorted to renting fake boyfriends to appease their parents during family events (Usher), which speaks volumes about the different perspectives younger and older generations have on marriage.

Despite the prevalence of traditional viewpoints in countries such as China, younger generations are now finding more courage to challenge these beliefs in order to live their lives the way they envision it should be. Critics have spoken out about how horrible marriage pressures can be, and how China must progress towards a more liberal standpoint on gender relations (Usher). This process may be slow, but there is hope that individual sovereignty will prevail, and women's rights will make marriage more of a choice and less of an obligation.



“Census Data Expected to Shed Light on Shrinking Marriage Stats | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 1 Aug. 2017, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/census-marriage-statistics-1.4218799.

DePaulo, Bella. “China's ‘Leftover Women’ and ‘Shake-and-Bake’ Husbands.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/living-single/201804/china-s-leftover-women-and-shake-and-bake-husbands.

Counter, Rosemary. “Is There a 'Right Age' to Get Married?” Winnipeg Sun, 12 Dec. 2012, winnipegsun.com/2012/12/05/is-there-a-right-age-to-get-married/wcm/4a56c549-17b6-4ff6-b472-48f082c75ce2.

Kan, Karoline. “China, Where the Pressure to Marry Is Strong, and the Advice Flows Online.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 June 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/06/18/world/asia/china-advice-columnists-online-relationships.html.

“Rise in China's 'Leftover Women' the Focus of Controversial New Book.” South China Morning Post, South China Morning Post, 3 Mar. 2018, www.scmp.com/culture/books/article/2135413/why-educated-professional-women-china-arent-marrying-new-book-explores.

Teon, Aris. “Filial Piety (孝) in Chinese Culture.” The Greater China Journal, The Greater China Journal, 14 Feb. 2019, china-journal.org/2016/03/14/filial-piety-in-chinese-culture/.

“TV Show ‘My Little One’ Is Pressuring Participants to Marry.” China News, 14 Feb. 2019, www.chinanews.com/yl/2019/02-14/8754296.shtml.

Usher, Pip. “Unmarried and Over 27? In China, That Makes You a ‘Leftover Woman.’” Vogue, Vogue, 26 May 2017, www.vogue.com/article/sheng-nu-leftover-women-sk-ii-viral-video.

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