In China, marriage and children are essential parts of having a family and being happy. This is deeply rooted in their culture and if you have ever studied the Chinese language, you’ll notice evidence of this very thing. Look at the Chinese word for “good” which is 好 (hao). This character is a composite of two separate characters put together into one. The left half is the character for a woman (女) and the right hand side is the character for a child (子) or (孩子). So literally, a woman with a child (a woman who is married and had a baby) that is good. And that is what everyone is trying to get. However, not everyone reaches this stage in their lives at the right time. Traditionally, women should be married and have a child well before their thirties, preferably married before the age of 25 and pregnant before the age of 27, 30 is the absolute last threshold. If you are not married by the age of 27, you ware considered a left-over woman. Someone who must be undesirable to still be single at this age.
While we have a similar culture, albeit a bit more jokingly, in Denmark, I struggle to understand the seriousness of the situation in China sometimes, and just how much Chinese women will do to avoid becoming a 剩女 (shèng nǚ). I have seen examples of colleagues who went from being single, to getting married and being pregnant within, I think, nine months. A marriage was arranged by their parents, and they got married and soon after she was pregnant and then everything was good. But I wonder how much love there is in this marriage, and how happy these two people truly are sacrificing their own happiness, to please their parents and avoid a label.
Why don’t they have a husband?
What the Chinese society is still struggling to understand, is that some, if not many, of these women are actually staying single by choice. It is a conscious decision made by themselves and they are well aware of the consequences.
In a country where beauty and material wealth is becoming more and more important, surely there are girls who have not been able to find a husband either because they do not have a good job, because they are not attractive enough or perhaps their personality is hard to match. But there are also certainly girls who stay single because they want to be happy in their marriage, and they are waiting to find a suitable partner, something that takes time and effort. Some of these girls want to focus on their career to be able to better provide for their family in the future, some of these girls simply prefer to be alone and are enjoying the freedom that comes with not being in a relationship.
But these expectations, especially from the older generations such as their parents and grandparents, getting married and having a child is the most important aspect of life, and every day that they remain single, is a day lost not being happy with a family of their own. Parents have gone so far as to arrange marriages behind their daughters backs to ensure that their daughter is not left behind.
In Denmark, when you turn 25 and you’re not married you become a “bachelor” and when you turn 30 and are unmarried you become a pepper-boy/girl. I am not sure of the actual translation but it is a similar thing to the Chinese, however it doesn’t really stick to you as a label as much as it does in China. And it is sexist as well because a man in his thirties is considered very desirable, while a woman in her thirties is considered left over and undesirable. But there is nothing that makes them undesirable, they are just as loving and beautiful as everyone else, they just had other things to focus on. Or they want to have a happy marriage, and not marry a stranger.
A very popular advertisement was released recently from a Japanese make-up producer called SK-II. The advertisement outlines the circumstances of these left-over women in Shanghai and shows how these girls feel about it, and also how some of them are fighting back against this label. It is a very powerful movie, and you see some very true reactions from the girls and their parents. It is well worth a watch to learn something about this aspect of Chinese life and culture.