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  • Ekaterina Zemskova

Marriage in China


Photo: Arisa Chattasa/Unsplash

Marriage pressure can be felt when relatives make comments such as ‘your clock is ticking’ and ‘it's time to start a family’, or about friends endlessly posting pictures of engagement rings. Quite often it is women who are faced with such comments, because they, even considering the widespread ideas of feminism, often still hear that they are the keepers of the home, that they should have a family and children. Particularly interesting in this case is the situation that is currently taking place in China. This has become such a sore subject for young women in China that such services as 'renting a boyfriend' have become popular. Women are willing to pay about $220 to bring a boyfriend home to meet their parents and not to hear their relatives' comments about potential loneliness.


However, it would be tolerable if the whole problem with marriage for women in China were limited to hiring an actor to comfort her family and marriage markets. Issues related to marriage in China may also be due to the 'one child' policy. Given the widespread practice of sex-selective abortion, which has contributed to the gender imbalance that hovers around 117 boys born for every 100 girls, it is clear why even the governemnt is concerned with the question of how people should marry nowadays. This phenomenon is also described as the 'missing women of China', which was introduced by economist Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. The meaning of it is that parents had to think pragmatically (if you can call it that) with the limited number of children in China and were more interested in having a boy, since he would inherit the family name and wealth and could take care of his parents in old age.


In order to understand how the problem with marriages is relevant for China, we can refer to the following example: in a notorious article on the communist party-affiliated news site Red Net, writer Jiang Wenlai talked about how women no longer want to stay in villages and would rather go to the cities, thus leaving men alone and childless. It seems to him that this concept should be changed, and for this he was inspired by the idea of Xiangyin county government in Hunan province that the relocation of women to cities should not be encouraged, and instead they have to marry older bachelors in their hometowns to prevent a marriage crisis.


An even more uncanny idea was proposed by Xie Zuoshi, that a woman can be shared between two men and there is nothing supernatural about it. Despite the fact that this proposal caused a flurry of negative reaction, the fact remains: the issue of marriage in China is now very acute and generates such extremely derogatory and unpleasant proposals.


In China, there is even a special term ‘Sheng-nu’, which literally means ‘leftover women’. If you are a woman, educated and not married by 27, then this is precisely the label that sticks to you. This concept exists mainly to stigmatize these women and encourage them (in an extremely strange way) to get married. This pressure is very effective, no one wants to be considered a poor thing who could not find a husband and now leads an unhappy and joyless life. The BBC documentary 'Women-Leftovers, or 'Old Maids' illustrates this social phenomenon. In it, 34-year-old lawyer May says that if you are single you are considered abnormal in Chinese society and May is ‘suffocated' because of it.


It is also worth noting that this entire article is devoted exclusively to heterosexual relationships, marriage between a man and a woman. It turns out that the entire LGBTQ+ community in China simply remains 'overboard', society can still put pressure on them, but even if they find their partner, they still cannot marry, since in China the same-sex couples are unable to marry or adopt children, and households headed by such couples are ineligible for the legal protections available to heterosexual couples.


Software engineers even created special applications so that a person who is not in a heterosexual relationship can find someone of the opposite sex to marry, without having to stop dating their loved ones. One could make the assumption that these kinds of applications are also the result of pressure and stigma. How serious could the influence of society be in this case, when a person is ready for a marriage of convenience, just not to feel undue attention to his or her marital status.


However, it should be understood that the issue of 'lack of demand' for women is more likely to be a matter of concern for women who have reached the age of 27 years. For example, in a short interview which was given specifically for this article, Chenfei (23 years old, single) said that only two of her peer friends got married. She personally does not feel any kind of marriage pressure. In her opinion, the main thing that affects the fact that the number of marriages in China is decreasing is because women realize their value without men. It is confirmed by the survey conducted by the Communist Youth League. About 44% of urban women respondents aged 18 to 26 said they do not plan to marry (even in the situation of marriage pressure), compared to nearly 25% of men.


Considering the things that have been said, it seems that a woman becomes a hostage to the concept of marriage, for some reason she is the one who 'must remain in the village in order not to leave men childless,' for some reason she is the one who can be shared between two men, she is the one who becomes a 'leftover' for society if she reaches a certain age and never has a family. Healthy and partnered relationships, family and children are good, but only if a person sincerely wants them, not because of pressure from relatives and society, but because it is his or her true desire. However, even if you sincerely love someone and are ready to legalize your relationship in the form of marriage, you may not always succeed if you belong to the LGBTQ+ community. It is sad to realize that marriage itself can become more important in some situations than a person's happiness and well-being.

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