Roseann Lake, author of ‘Leftover in China’, discusses how women who aren’t married by 25 are reshaping China’s traditional culture. Following is a transcript of the video.
Roseann Lake: Leftover women in China are a strange byproduct or aftershock of the one-child policy.
In 1979, China enacted a once child per family policy to reduce the growth rate of its enormous population.
Roseann Lake: Given China’s traditional preference for boys, do you have a surplus of boys mainly concentrated in rural areas of China where parents were most keen to have a boy because they needed him for the farm and tradition just also weighed a bit more heavily, and they wanted a son. There were girls born under this period of time, and they happen to be born primarily in urban areas, where parents were a bit more open-minded. And they said, all right, we’ve got a daughter, we got a daughter. We’re gonna raise her as if she were a son. So we’re gonna give her every opportunity to study and achieve, and we’re gonna push her hard to bring honour to our family.
And as a result, you have China’s first generations of only daughters who are this kind of very fine silver lining of an otherwise kind of a very gruesome cloud of a one-child policy who got access to unprecedented opportunities. Before, when young people lived closer to their parents, they had that network of parents and relatives who could constantly supply them with a pool of potential matches to consider and ultimately get them married. People are moving away further from home to study and to work, which means that that network doesn’t stretch as far.
There are Chinese dating apps, some of the more established ones are more marriage-minded. You have other dating websites that are more hook-up minded, I mean, there’s a variety. The difference between what they’re doing and what their parents would like them to do is they’re continuing to live their lives as they search for someone, while as their parents kinda of freak out, and it’s kind of like, wait, stop everything, find a partner, and then resume. And that’s not something they’re willing to do because they have done so much to get where they are. So they’re treading this delicate balance of remaining filial, and being dutiful daughters, which many of them want to be, but also carving out lives that are more in tune with their own expectations. And their own potential.
The fact that now a woman can exist without being married is a bit destabilizing. Especially for a culture where an economy has grown very quickly, but the culture is still struggling to catch up to the new economic and demographic reality of China.
There is bling in China, there is money in China. And that’s all a part of the tremendous economic growth that the country has seen, and it’s remarkable to see that women have been a part of it. And a lot of the women who are China’s self-made female billionaires were born during the cultural revolution. And that’s a very special time in China. Allowing these women to, you know, to work and achieve their full professional and earnings potential, will be good for their country going forward. Who else is going to be having babies for China, if not its women? So you need to, first of all, not call them names, that would a good start.
And then think about changing attitudes towards them. Giving them more forgiving timelines for marriage and motherhood. And also from a professional perspective, make it possible for them to pursue a professional career and also have a rewarding family life.