Left out or leftover?

By Fang Shaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-17 17:13:01

Shanghai’s unmarried men struggle to find wives

A single man looks hopefully for company at a matchmaking fair. Photo: IC

Traditionally Chinese families have preferred to have boys. China has been a patriarchal society and a family's bloodline has always descended through the males. In the past when a woman married she left her family to join the family of her husband. Even when the one-child policy was introduced in 1979 many couples, who were legally only allowed one child, sought to discover the sex of unborn fetuses and would try to have female fetuses aborted.

This has resulted in a gender imbalance throughout the country with 117 boys born for every 100 girls. While the plight of leftover women, shengnü, the successful career women who after the age of 30 have not married and are often considered to be unmarriageable because of their age, has been covered extensively in the media, the plight of the millions of leftover men, shengnan, is rarely discussed.

Gender imbalance

Today's society, where women and men move from rural areas to cities to make their living, has been a major factor in creating the gender imbalance, said Zhou Haiwang, the deputy director of the Institute of Population and Development at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"Women from less developed areas tend to base themselves where they work for years and marry. They leave more and more men behind who have few prospects of being able to find wives.

"And with the new higher standards of living being a major concern in the cities,  women in the cities do not want to marry men who don't earn as much as they do."

This leaves the leftover men vulnerable and often struggling to find acceptance in modern society. Some experts suggest these lonely men could prove potentially disruptive in society.

For a single professional man in Shanghai it can be difficult finding time and suitable women to date. Huang Hao is a 29-year-old IT professional whose friends and work colleagues have tried to help him by arranging dates for him. Like many in the city, he has limited spare time and a limited network within which to meet women. Even if the women he dates are keen on getting married it hasn't worked for him.

"Love leave" passes for single employees with the Jinyinmao company Photo: Courtesy of the Shanghai Jinyinmao Financial Service Company

Giving it up

He is now giving up the blind dates. The women he met that he fancied never returned his calls afterwards and he was left wondering whether it was his looks, his personality or his finances that spoiled the romance.

He is not alone and dating websites and agencies in Shanghai and other big cities are thriving. According to Shanghai-based jiayuan.com, one of the popular dating websites, it has one and a half times as many men on its books as women. But not everyone joins dating websites so it is hard to discover whether the city needs more eligible bachelors or more women.

Zhou Juemin is director of the Shanghai Matchmaking Association and helps organize the Shanghai Love and Marriage Expo, the major annual city matchmaking event. She believes that, like the leftover women, many of the leftover men place too much value on appearance, education and finance. "Though they look forward to having daughter-in-laws, parents, especially mothers, are much more inflexible when they deal with potential wives for their sons, often insisting that they should be Shanghai-born and bred or complaining that they are the wrong age for him."

Chinese Singles' Day, November 11, this year saw an increased number of matchmaking evens and activities. Last week, the Shanghai Jinyinmao Financial Service Company announced a special two-hour "love leave" pass which allows single men and women employed by the company to spend two hours in work time with men or women from a select group of companies to get to know each other. The intention is that some of the couples in the Lujiazui Financial and Trade Zone will hit it off and begin dating, or at least, becoming friends.

Yu Shan is the marketing department manager for the firm and said management was encouraging employees to take advantage of the "love leave" offer.

A challenge

"It's a challenge to work in Lujiazui in this industry. Instead of getting out and meeting women, our male employees spend most of their time struggling with PowerPoint and Excel files."

One of the company's employees is 28-year-old Zou Weijian and he said he was not looking for a wife at this stage of his career. His last serious relationship was a long-distance affair and came to an end three years ago. "I seem to be on an upward curve in my career and I think there is big chance I will be promoted further. Being unmarried might be a plus if there is a chance of having to work in another city and I wouldn't have to worry a lot about relocation."

"More marriageable women in the city do well in their professions but they still want to marry someone with a higher financial or social status than themselves and, because of this, they have very few to choose from," explained Zhang Peiqun, a counselor with the Letian Psychological Counseling Center.

She said there was an element of competition that skewed some relationships. "Most single men want to be good enough for their intended wives and will try to move to better employment or make more money." The acceptable age for a man to marry has become a lot higher in Shanghai than in many other places.

Matchmaker Zhou Juemin thinks another problem is the way the media reports marriage by covering stories on quickie divorces, problems with in-laws and the financial burdens some couples endure. Men who were unwilling to shoulder responsibilities were afraid to try marriage, she said.

Shanghai Jinyinmao Financial Service Company employees at a company matchmaking event on this year's Chinese Singles' Day Photo: Courtesy of the Shanghai Jinyinmao Financial Service Company

Happy and single

While some men are desperately seeking marriage and family life there are others who are happy being single and refuse to settle down even though they might tick the right boxes for many women, being both attractive and financially secure.

Wang Shuxian is the director of the Xuhui branch of the Wang Shuxian Psychological Counseling Studio and said that Shanghai, being a metropolis, offered a variety of opportunities for relationships and marriage for both sexes. "But not everyone wants to seize their opportunities. Because men don't worry about getting old, many of them wait in the hope that someone better will turn up."

Some of her clients, who come from senior management and upper social levels, insist on trying to find soul mates rather than accepting the women that are available. They do not feel there is a time pressure on them.

Yan Yonglan, a counselor with the Letian Psychological Counseling Center believes society's whole approach to love and marriage is changing dramatically. "The traditional approach is being challenged but there is not a new approach that is acceptable yet."

She thinks that in modern cities in China today there is less importance being placed on the status of marriage, especially by men.

Counselor Wang goes further and suggests that labeling unmarried men as leftover no longer makes sense and could put unnecessary pressure on some individuals.

Posted in: Society, Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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