Much ado about­shengnu

Many young, suc­cess­ful women in China feel the pres­sure to tie the knot, even though they are happy with their sin­gle sta­tus.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By VA­LERIE NG AND ERIK NILS­SON

THE shengnu or “left­over women” have been a big deal in Chi­nese so­ci­ety – de­spite be­ing a smaller part of the pop­u­la­tion than per­haps most think.

There’s the TV se­ries Old Women Should Get Mar­ried and the re­al­ity match­mak­ing show If You Are The One. Me­dia have minted terms like “the shengnu econ­omy” to an­a­lyse how suc­cess­ful sin­gle women older than 27 spend their cash.

The mu­sic video by and about shengnu, No House, No Car – a sting­ing re­tort to the pop­u­lar No Car, No House mu­sic video by blue-col­lar Chi­nese bach­e­lors – was viewed more than 1.5 mil­lion times within two days af­ter it was up­loaded to the Chi­nese video site Youku on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day in 2011.

In that time, it also gar­nered more than 20,000 down­votes ver­sus about 3,400 up­votes, plus more than 5,600 com­ments – most of which de­rided the lyrics’ “gold-dig­ging” pathos.

But the women be­hind No House, No Car de­clare they don’t care in the lyrics: “You can call me a gold-dig­ger. I won’t feel hurt.”

But the buzz sur­round­ing shengnu is seem­ingly larger than the group. And in fact, China’s left­over women are rel­a­tively rare, es­pe­cially com­pared with their global peers.

Fewer than 10% of Chi­nese women in their 30s are un­mar­ried, the United Na­tions’ World Mar­riage Data 2012 re­port shows. Only 7.4% of women be­tween 30 and 34 are sin­gle, while those aged 35-39 ac­count for 4.6%.

The fig­ures are much higher in com­pa­ra­ble coun­tries, such as Asian na­tions with sim­i­larly tra­di­tional val­ues.

More than 39% of Ja­panese women in their early 30s re­main un­wed. It’s nearly 22% in South Korea and more than 28% in Sin­ga­pore.

Look­ing west­ward, the fig­ures ex­ceed 38% for the United States. And, more than half of Bri­tish women in the age bracket re­main sin­gle.

Re­ports say most Chi­nese shengnu are con­cen­trated in me­trop­o­lises like Bei­jing and Shang­hai, where de­vel­op­ment is on par with wealthy coun­tries.

Bei­jinger Amy Yang shows that shengnu aren’t nec­es­sar­ily as ma­te­ri­al­is­tic as they’re some­times made out to be. Yang’s boyfriend is less suc­cess­ful than her – far less. And she’s happy with him. But her par­ent’s aren’t.

“My fam­ily and friends try to ar­range match­mak­ing ses­sions for me,” the 31-year-old says.

She was sched­uled to meet an­other po­ten­tial suitor the weekend she was in­ter­viewed.

“My boyfriend isn’t a grad­u­ate. He draws a salary of about 4,000 yuan (RM2,190) a month,” she ex­plains. “If not for my par­ents and so­ci­etal pres­sure, I’d be con­tent with just be­ing with him or even stay­ing sin­gle.”

Yang has a post-grad­u­ate de­gree from Pek­ing Univer­sity, one of the

Match­maker: coun­try’s most elite schools, and does mar­ket­ing for a multi­na­tional.

Her par­ents in­sist her heart­throb “isn’t good enough,” she ex­plains.

She be­lieves it’s eas­ier for “brain­less beau­ties or those who pre­tend to be with­out much gray mat­ter” to nab hus­bands.

Yvonne Oh (not her real name) also feels pres­sure to tie the knot.

The 31-year-old gen­eral man­ager of a for­eign or­gan­i­sa­tion en­joys a ful­fill­ing ca­reer and ac­tive so­cial life in Bei­jing. But her fam­ily and friends have de­cided – make that de­cided for her – that she’s not happy.

“Some people, in­clud­ing my fam­ily and friends, think I’m un­happy be­ing sin­gle. But that’s not the case,” she says. “I lead a full life and oc­cupy my spare time by read­ing the books I like, hang­ing out with friends and go­ing for short trips. What’s im­por­tant is that my time is very flex­i­ble.”

Bei­jing-based au­thor Roseann Lake, who has writ­ten much about shengnu, ex­plains that if a Chi­nese woman wants to “en­sure” she gets mar­ried, num­bers seem to in­di­cate that she sim­ply has to wait around long enough.

“China ac­tu­ally has one of the high­est fe­male mar­riage rates in the world. This ‘ wait around’ ap­proach isn’t one I’d rec­om­mend, how­ever,” she says. “Ev­ery woman has an in­ter­nal ‘ happy com­pass’ of what she knows will and will not be con­ducive to her well-be­ing. She needs to lis­ten to it and re­spond ac­cord­ingly.

“I also think it’s ad­vis­able to dis­re­gard any lengthy lists of what prospec­tive mates must and must not have.”

But this prin­ci­ple de­fies the match­mak­ing net­works forced upon fe­males by fam­ily, friends, em­ploy­ers and col­leagues. That in­cludes the groups of par­ents who gather in parks to swap stats on their chil­dren’s eco­nomic sta­tuses and phys­i­cal at­tributes.

The ex­pec­ta­tion to marry while mar­ketable pushes some women to pre­empt their “ex­pi­ra­tion dates” by mar­ry­ing “be­neath” them – that is, to poorer or younger men.

Univer­sity of Hong Kong so­ci­ol­o­gist Sandy To says left­over women re­sult from the per­sis­tence of China’s pa­tri­ar­chal past. Many of these women have been re­jected by men who feel more com­fort­able with less ac­com­plished wives. Oth­ers strug­gled with re­la­tion­ships in which boyfriends ex­pected them to spend less time at work and more on home life.

Take the re­cently pub­li­cised case of a Nan­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity PhD stu­dent who sought a boyfriend to ac­com­pany her to her home­town dur­ing Spring Fes­ti­val. Prob­lem is, rather than cel­e­brate smart as sexy, about 30% of Chi­nese men don’t want to marry a woman with a PhD, an on­line Mod­ern Ex­press sur­vey shows.

“These women are be­ing forced to de­velop new strate­gies when it comes to courtship, dat­ing and part­ner choice to avoid be­com­ing shengnu,” To says.

She re­searched the topic from 2008 to 2012 for her Univer­sity of Cam­bridge doc­toral the­sis.

But early mar­riages of­ten lead to di­vorces later. The 2011 Chi­nese Mar­riage Sit­u­a­tion Sur­vey found nearly 45% of in­ter­vie­wees were ap­pre­hen­sive about mar­ry­ing at all, since one in five cou­ples di­vorce.

An­other 42% wor­ried about los­ing their free­dom. And 37.5% dreaded fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. An additional 31% were anx­ious about hous­ing. Some ex­pressed do­mes­tic vi­o­lence fears.

Lake cites Face­book COO Sh­eryl Sand­berg. Sand­berg’s first mar­riage be­gan when she was 25, in ac­cor­dance with her par­ents’ de­sire. She di­vorced af­ter a year. Sand­berg re­mar­ried nearly a decade later, and she and her hus­band are now one of the tech world’s most cel­e­brated cou­ples.

“Why did this mar­riage work bet­ter than the first? I would ven­ture it has some­thing to do with the fact that she went into it on her own terms and at her own time,” Lake says.

An­other ad­vo­cate of choos­ing life part­ners slowly and wisely is Los Angeles’ for­mer deputy mayor Joy Chen. The Chi­nese-Amer­i­can wrote the book Do Not Marry Be­fore Age 30.

“We should not just try to find a ‘Mr Right Now’, but a ‘Mr Right For­ever’,” she said in an ear­lier in­ter­view with China Daily.

That’s Oh’s plan. She’ll set­tle down – but only with Mr Right.

“I hope to meet the one des­tiny brings to me,” she says. “It’d be even lone­lier if I have to spend the rest of my life with some­one who’s not my match.”

But Yang, the mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive, says she’s suc­cumb­ing to pres­sure. Her New Year’s res­o­lu­tion is to get mar­ried.

“I fall into the group of people who’ll get mar­ried for the sake of get­ting mar­ried,” she ex­plains. “And, to please my par­ents, I’ll set­tle for some­one ‘good enough’ by their stan­dards.” – China Daily/Asia News Net­work

a fa­ther se­lect­ing pho­tos of young men for his daugh­ter at a blind date event in Shang­hai, China. Many young women suc­cumb to pres­sure to marry some­one who meets their par­ents’ ex­pec­ta­tions. — ePa

Par­ents check­ing out ad­ver­tise­ments for young sin­gle men and women strung up in a park in Qing­dao, China. Such ‘match­mak­ing cor­ners’ are pop­u­lar in parks through­out China. — MCT

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