China's Unmarried 'Leftover' Women

Have you ever been called a leftover woman? Yeah. Sometimes. Yeah No matter how excellent you are or how capable you are, in larger society’s mind, you’re not as good as a man My name is Wei Tingting I’m one of the feminist’s who was arrested before International Women’s Day We’re in China, where women are experiencing unprecedented financial freedom And since Mao founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, have enjoyed equal rights to men Well, at least some people Up until the Communist Revolution, women were pretty much considered property, and their feet were tied Then Mao, when breaking the norms of social class and gender, declared that women carry half of the sky And gender equality was written into the Constitution I would always admit that I’m a beneficiary of the socialist women’s liberation Remember how American women were empowered to join the workforce in the 1940s, when the men left for war And then sent back to the kitchen in the 50s when they returned? Back in the days of Mao, there wasn’t enough man-power to build the new China So women joining the workforce were celebrated as Iron Girls These days, however, feminists are being detained And for almost a decade, unmarried women older than 27, have been called the derogatory term Sheng Nu, which means leftover women We’re here to find out, why women’s social status in China is experiencing a backlash Some Chinese parents are so worried of their daughters being referred to as leftovers, that they have taken the matter of finding them a spouse into their own hands We’re on our way to one of China’s many wedding markets We’re in one of Beijing’s many public parks, and today, in this one, there’s a wedding market on, where parents come to advertise their unmarried sons and daughters These types of markets happen a lot, several times a week, all over China We met up with the local match-maker, Mr. Yan I don’t know when it started but it’s been here for a few years now The people here started this voluntarily -I have…information of both boys and girls -Okay See, I have a lot here -Oh, wow -I have a lot of girls here I have their basic information and contacts, all given by their parents I also have quite a few photos She is quite pretty, isn’t she? So she’s born in 1980, so she’s actually…35 Is it difficult for her to find a husband at that age? Very difficult Doesn’t matter how gorgeous she looks Boys looking for girls, based on my experience, they’re looking for someone who’s young, never married and good looking All three of these are prime factors Can’t miss any The old lady just here, her daughter is 179cm (5’10” feet). Too tall That’s tricky For girls in Beijing, the perfect height to find a boyfriend is 165cm (5’5″ feet) So girls in Beijing nowadays looking for boyfriends will have a lot of trouble Although China’s one child policy, which was introduced in the late 1970s, was recently revoked For parents, it has meant that an unmarried son or daughter, is the end of the family lineage That’ why, it’s seen as a parent’s final duty in life, to see their children married off To many parents it is a hugely important task It’s a burden on their mind If their kids can’t find someone, they will be very worried Some parents can’t even sleep at night They would call me and tell me, “Mr. Yea, I have been sitting in my bed all night.” Is it possible to make an ad for me and see what happens? Right, give me a few minutes I need to talk to her Hello I have a son That’s fine. Show me his info

[A girl born] between 1982-1984 would be the best Superstition requires the year and month to match I understand how you think Finding a match is not easy Because the one-child policy has also created an extreme gender imbalance Because sones were preferred, many would-be daughters were aborted Meaning, there are over 20 million more men than women in China For a long time, women experienced terrible pain and personal pain because of the one-child policy A lot of forced abortions, that kind of situation The government paid attention to the negative consequences of this one-child policy only when our research shows that there’s a terrible sex ratio imbalance Female infanticide was not a concern of the government but man cannot find a wife is a concern of the government Despite the real issue, being the leftover men, it’s still the women who are berated, for leaving their villages to try their luck in the cities, where they can marry-up or pursue a career Leaving millions of poor working men, unable to find a spouse Do you think I have good options to find a boyfriend? Should be possible, now since we have the policy of reform and openness Very convenient, as long as you are used to life here in Beijing So basically, at these markets, you usually don’t come yourself It’s usually your parents And often you don’t even know that your parents are here, advertising you And you need to put your height, your weight, usually your date of birth and what kind of spouse you’re looking for Is the age of the man important? For men, the age matters in general However, men are preferred to be older and girls to be younger And is it important that the man earns more money? Financial conditions are a very important part Also, he has to have a local property in Beijing Height, age, property ownership, and money are the main parts What kind of man are you looking for, for your daughter? A suitable height, owns property by himself, has a stable job, has a good personality, and a healthy body -Is it you? -Yeah, that’s me -How old is she? -32 A little old This guy wanted me to stand up, but I’m too tall also People seem a bit confused as to why I’m here, and I’m pretty weirded out too, because I’m being judged, on completely superficial things, sitting here in a dinosaur park with plastic dinosaurs, growling and people dancing and doing weird things I got the feeling that it was because of the shortage of wives, that the term leftover women was coined To pressure girls to marry young, and stigmatise the women, who choose to pursue a career We wanted to find out what a day in the life was like, for one of China’s so-called leftover women So we met up with a young professional in Beijing Actually, I’m just a TOEFL speaking teacher and listening teacher So is this like your aspiration? Is this a job that you always wanted to do? Yeah, I mean, I like teaching because I like helping people Yeah, I know it’s like a two-way street I get to teach something, and they can just, teach me something in a different way Yeah It seems like everywhere you walk in China, you’re just surrounded by all these ads of pretty young girls in wedding dresses Yeah, I feel like it’s not everybody is lucky enough to get the one, the way they want And I feel like the leftover ladies I don’t feel pity for them, or for us because we really know what we want -OK, welcome to my home! -Thank you -Oh wow, so this is your room! -Yeah, right It’s a little bit messy, you know how a girl’s room is, you know And have any of these girls experienced any comments or difficulties, because they’re not weak and frail, because they’re actually career oriented?

Yeah, right. They are. And then we’re called, tough women Like Nu Hanzi in China Is that another derogatory term? So it’s not just leftover women, you also have tough girl, is another derogatory term? Exactly, these are two really famous, popular terms in China Wow, they really don’t like tough girls in China Sometimes, it’ll seem unfair, but we are quite OK about it We are still living in the way what we like, we don’t care too much about what other people think Yeah, we’re all leftover ladies, oh my gosh! Can we do the one that tells you your age? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! Wait, analyzing I’m even older than you! That’s good, right? -Yeah, right -That’s a good age It’s a good age! Being in your 30s is like being in your 20s all over again Look at all these leftover ladies This one is pretty cute You know what’s ironic to me? In China, the real issue is the leftover men because there’re so many more men than women Yeah, why is it not ‘leftover men’? -But they don’t label the men leftover -Yeah, right Is there any sort of hope or expectation in your family, that at your age, say you should be having your own family or anything like that? Yeah, like always, right Like, always, this is a big issue for me As a 26 year old girl Yeah The other day, I just celebrated my own birthday I called my grandpa and he said something cliché again like, “Hey, you are getting old.” I was like, seriously? I’m only 26 And then, he said, “Come on, go find a reliable boyfriend Oh, you don’t have to set your bar too high, because you’re not that good enough.” Yeah, he’s just using this as a strategy He wants me to live a good life okay, but I feel like what the difference is that I feel like finding boyfriend is not the only issue in my life It felt strange to me, that someone as young as Nicole, should feel pressure to get married But she’s lucky, as her family is still relatively understanding But we’ve heard of cases where girls have been shunned by their families, for refusing to tie the knot This mentality is so ingrained in today’s China, that the wedding and dating industry is thriving, and predicted to soon surpass $300 million a year We tried out another one of China’s many and increasingly popular match finding options Today is Chinese Valentine’s Day, and we’re at an amusement park, where there’s going to be a speed dating event taking place, and I’m going to find out what the details are for registering But it seems like people will have to wear paper bags The speed dating event was organised by a matchmaking agency, infamous for a TV ad, aimed at so-called “leftover women” which has sparked public outcry on Chinese social media -The only thing she asks when she sees me is -Getting married? I can’t be picky anymore I need to go to’s physical store Grandma, I got married The sea lion performance was quite amazing The sea lion is quite beautiful. All the girls stand in one side I wonder how they taste. And then boys on the other Please use your instinct to find one person of the opposite sex who will be your magic partner of the day. I had a hard time believing that I could find Mr Right, wearing a paper bag in a nautical themed amusement park Thank you Hi, I’m Milene Oh! You’re from inner Mongolia! -Yes, yes -I really want to go to Mongolia! Girls in China have a lot of pressure to get married before they’re 27 Do you feel that pressure on you as well, being a guy? My family sometimes pushes me Makes me feel like it’s time for me to have a girlfriend What are girls usually looking for in a guy? They want someone who has a house, a car -Can we go horse-riding in Mongolia? -Yes, yes! I was brought up on stage, blindfolded, and asked to pick a man The flowery beauty boy! Come! Is this considered good looking in Sweden? He’s cute! Just cute? It’s over No worries. There is still hope There’s a Chinese saying: this type of guy is honest,

he cares for his family and he’ll make money for you to spend Right? We don’t just care about looks That’s why we all wear paper bags tonight So I’m looking for somebody who will make me laugh and who’s intelligent and who reads a lot of books They clearly didn’t get my criteria for what I was looking for in a partner Young men, they are also victims of these highly sexist gender norms How to be a masculine man, what is the success of a masculine man? It’s all related to the money and the house and cars If you don’t have any of these possessions or any of these material goods you are not a real man and then you can not marry any women Having witnessed the gender norms in modern China, it was hard to imagine the days when strong working women were idolised Back in the days of China’s 1960s and 70s cultural revolution, Whang Zheng was a movie star of the era’s revolutionary heroine films Hongying is more politically wise than me After all she is the product of the Cultural Revolution But we lower-middle peasant class are not easy quitters, we follow the direction which Chairman Mao has pointed us So she has personal insight on ambitious women’s drastic shift from being celebrated as Iron Girls, to being denounced as leftover women In the socialist period, Iron Girl was a symbol of women’s double liberation from gender and class hierarchies From my childhood on, all the films portrayed revolutionary heroines All strong women Historically, women in China couldn’t receive formal education and you had no right to be in politics It was the Socialist Revolution, especially the feminists in the Social Revolution, they fought very hard to sweep away that kind of mentality But unfortunately in the 1980s it’s revived The 1980s was China’s reform period During which former leader Deng Xiaoping opened up China to foreign investment After China embraced the global capitalism, people would say, “Oh, wow, China’s economic development, there are miracles everywhere, you know The GDP now in China is ranked number two, you know.” But most people did not pay attention to the other side of the story That is the polarisation of class and also the gap between men and women has been increased drastically The Iron Girls were the first targets to be condemned in the 1980s They turned the discourse around naming these women as a symbol of how socialist women’s liberation masculinised women A lot of writings at the time were talking about the best way to retrieve or recover a woman’s femininity is to be a good wife and a good mother The brainwash is so powerful because they have the new media They have all the billboards to show what is a happy life for a happy young wife Don’t try to aspire for a career No matter how much successful you are in your career you will feel so empty in your heart if you cannot find a man in your life So tons of this kind of stuff circulating in Chinese media, publications, everywhere To trap excellent young women, competitive young women, in marriage Despite the social pressure to marry young, and women’s pursuit of a career often frowned upon, more and more Chinese women refuse to buy into that social stigma Cities like Beijing and Shanghai are full of unmarried, successful career women We’re going to go meet some of them from a group called ‘Lean in Beijing’, to see how they feel about this whole concept of the leftover women Lean In Beijing was founded in 2012, Inspired by Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg’s book of the same name They already have thousands of members across China Nicole is one of them -Please come in -Great, thank you!

I think the role of this organization is to allow or to encourage Chinese women to define what success is, what their goals and dreams are on their own terms There is life after 30. I think many Chinese women are terrified of turning 30, and that, you know, should they choose to pursue their careers and even if society perceives them as a leftover, you know, they can still live full and happy lives I feel like there are times we’re focused too much on age And I love the leftover ladies concept I feel like it’s a compliment We are brave to be leftover ladies, we’re still waiting for good relationships, we still have hope for love, for our dreams, our careers We’ve seen so many bad marriage cases because they were rushing it They didn’t get to know each other that well My experience with love relationships, that it’s pretty much the most unreliable thing that you can bank your future on And the most reliable thing surely is having a career, so that you can support yourself and your children no matter what happens What kind of issues have you all faced in your professional life that you bring here and talk about together? Women do more work with more delicate efforts, but men spend more time chit-chatting with the boss, because the boss is a man, a cigarette together might build up their relationship real close and my female subordinates feel discouraged They even told me women are better off without education because they feel like they can’t move up in a company anyway I might as well spend more time with my family and my kids So today’s young women have all the resources They were princesses in their one-child families They thought they could do anything, you know, they were used to being the centre of the universe But as soon as they graduate from school they’ve already experienced gender discrimination And they thought, “I can do anything,” you know, but now society says, “Oh, no.” “No, you are a secondary citizen in this country.” You know No matter how excellent you are or how capable you are In larger society’s mind you’re not as good as a man But it’s a paradox They also grew up in a period in which they enjoyed many more resources They were the centre of their family, right So it’s a very paradoxical situation here and you have to understand this paradox in order to understand the deep sense of frustration among this cohort of young women If women want to find a good position in their careers there is something called “soft power.” You can act like a woman, but you have to think like a man If you have a tough look, others may not like it Because I’ve heard friends say, “Can you be softer?” In the social period the ‘strong woman’ is good and positive, right? But pretty soon the term ‘strong woman’ became derogatory Women were afraid of being labelled as ‘strong woman’ So they tried to pretend to be, you know, “We’re weak, we can not do this, we can not do that.” After the meeting, Nicole invited us for a night out So do you get your nails done often? Yeah Do you think it’s confusing for people that you do nails, you like all these girly things, but then, you and all other Lean In Girls are quite like strong and tough? Is that something that confuses people? I feel like this is just a conservative, you know, stereotype We’re not supposed to be really capable or aggressive in the public place or workplace, but you know things have already changed China in the old days was much better, more advanced Would you call yourself a feminist? I don’t think so Yeah, I’m not a feminist That’s just like to put out yourself on the opposite side of the men Like always fight with each other I don’t think that’s a good thing, I mean, I think it’s too strong The word feminist seems to have negative connotation in China Even women who tick all the boxes for what a feminist is like Nicole, will avoid this label But feminism does still exist in China I acknowledge myself even more I have a female body, so what? I can still love other girls and be my true self Then he put his hand on my leg, another hand kept on touching my hair

I was so scared and pushed him away I would never dare to go to his office alone again We inject medicine into their stomachs just because they are pregnant with a girl Stick the spoon inside their vagina Use all means just to prevent a baby girl from being born Being a politically active feminist in China is risky and can get you detained But there’re still people who do it We’re on our way to meet a feminist collective called BCome, who are currently rehearsing a Chinese version of ‘The Vagina Monologues.’ ‘The VaChina Monologues.’ In summer I had to wear a pad this heavy So heavy that people can see its shape through my pants I am a woman with no period -What does it say on your shirt? -‘This is what a feminist would look like’ Is feminism big in China? I think there are two kinds of feminism – One is like how a woman can survive in a male-dominated world It’s super aggressive, that you’re supposed to step on men Many people think that’s feminism So people freak when we tell them we are feminists, and I have to explain that I just believe in gender equality And they get it. But if you tell them about your rights, they freak again People start to lose interest because nobody wants to give up their rights The ones who consider themselves feminists are actually maybe one thousand in China That’s insane, China has about a fifth of the world’s women and you have a thousand feminists I think it’s quite normal, because most people are still in the process of getting the idea You’ve had friends who have been arrested by the police for doing a feminist activity Are you ever scared? Definitely I don’t think it’s risky to be a feminist, but it’s risky to be an activist, so it’ll be risky as long as you’re after some sort of rights, and that you’re willing to put out the action Because real feminism demands democracy, justice, and the freedom and independence to think, it’s closely related If these kinds of demands are feared by popular ideology, then it’s dangerous to be a feminist indeed This is the battle between civil society and the government The government can define anything as radical and dangerous but hopefully we can still accomplish something In the lead up to the International Women’s Day in 2015 the arrest of China’s ‘Feminists Five’ made world news Five women’s rights activists in China have been held for a month on suspicion of picking quarrels and provoking trouble Actually meeting one of the Feminist Five, who are now out on probation would be too risky for everyone involved Instead, we got one of their activists, Tingting, to film herself answering our questions I along with four other girls were detained because we planned to have a campaign against harassment on public transportation I was questioned over 40 times in 30 days They searched all my emails They searched my diary, and they even read my diary to me and said, “You said this, this, this word, which means you are anti our government.” Actually, I’m not I think I’m really, really a good girl and a good citizen I just want to do something good for our society You know, in China, how can you not be a feminist when you face so much discrimination and when you see so much violence unequal to women In my experience, domestic violence is a big issue for women to face According to the UN, more than 50% of Chinese men abuse their partners And marital rape is not a crime in China I was a victim of domestic violence My mother suffered from domestic violence when I was young So that’s how I became a feminist Despite my arrest I choose to continue my fight It’s a hard time for us, but I think we have a bright future

Amnesty International estimates, that half a million people are currently in punitive detention, without charge or trial in China And that surveillance, house arrests and imprisonment of activists, is on the increase The whole world knew the Feminist Five, right? I’m really hopeful that they will continue their fight Today’s consumerist culture is very oppressive to young men and women Even against very harsh political reality and political environment, I still hope we’ll see a lot more young feminists will emerge from this kind of social condition And I’m quite hopeful The early femists who joined the revolution, they experienced so much hardship They already established all these mechanisms and policies, everything Social institutions, everything But that can be dismantled So right now, the generations of young women find themselves again, in a worse situation than my generation, right? So they have to re-fight the battle Every generation has to fight the battle To pursue a society of justice and equality, everybody has to fight