Opinion: "Sheng Nv" -- Social Boon or Societal Ill?
    2010-01-13 16:43:47     CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Yang Yang

The phenomenon of "sheng nv," or literally "leftover women," has become hot topic in the Chinese media.

Statistics indicate that the number of "sheng nv" in Beijing alone has surpassed 500,000. Even South Korean media report that China has embraced what they call the "Golden Miss" era.

Among the media discussions, some are trying to determine the reasons for the dilemma that these women face. Others are busy trying to help the "sheng nv" find their Mr. Right. Yet others are questioning whether this phenomenon shows an improvement in Chinese society or indicates a social problem.

Still, no one has considered whether the concept of "sheng nv" itself is tenable. The connotative logic of "sheng nv" is that women should get married by a certain age, and if they are not, then they are considered abnormal women who are "leftover."

It is a traditional custom dating back thousands of years in China that young people, especially women, should get married by a certain age. The tradition faded in the twentieth century as more people chose to get married later in life compared with their parents' or grandparents' generations.

But when the "sheng nv" phenomenon is no longer a choice for individuals but for a large group of women, then one may be more inclined to consider the choice a normal one. As society continues to develop, the so-called "suitable age" for marriage will also change accordingly.

The delaying of first marriages for men and women has become an international phenomenon. In Europe and the United States, men marry at an average age of 30, while women marry at 28.

Some people say many western couples live together before marriage so it is natural for them to get married when they are in their thirties or older.

In South Korea, where most people are as traditional as the Chinese, the average marriage age for men has surpassed 30, while the average marriage age for women has increased to 28.

One reason for this change is the prolonging of one's education in modern times. The other reason is that the increasing cost of living has forced people to create a family after having certain economic basics.

Therefore, international standards for the age one usually gets married are flexible and changing all the time. People can choose to get married in their twenties or remain single into their thirties and beyond.

When finding a boyfriend or girlfriend and getting married are purely individual choices, one can make the decision according to their preferences, psychological expectations and life plans. No one has to suffer from the societal and familial pressure of getting married by a certain age.

But the situation is the total opposite in China where women are treated unfairly in this regard. One the one hand, Chinese women work hard to further their education to remain competitive in the job market. When they receive a doctoral degree, for example, they are usually about 30 years old. If they are still unmarried, people start to call them "sheng nv."

On the other hand, most Chinese people still adhere to the traditional criteria of a certain marital age, and they define these well-educated single women as "leftovers." But such a term is not proper and has come about as a result of people's cultural conceptions lagging far behind societal changes.

Another unfair aspect for these women is that there are double standards for men and women in China. Census data indicate that 33.31 million more men than women were born between 1980 and 2000. But the so-called "leftover women" suffer greater pressure than these "leftover men."

An undated online survey cited in a column by sociologist Jin Yihong on the Jiangsu-based Xinhua Daily indicates that the ideal age for men to get married is after 30. But for women who are over 25, it will become harder for them to find a suitable husband. Ninety percent of female netizens in the survey said they believed men in their thirties were their ideal choices for marriage.

In reality, Chinese society is more tolerant of men than women. They give the beautiful name "Diamond Wang Lao Wu" to those single men who are 35 years of age or older.

For Chinese women, the more successful they are, the harder it is for them to find a partner. No matter how outstanding and successful they become, they will be described as "leftovers."

When the media create new words and concepts, they seem not to consider that they may cause mental strife for certain groups of people. By creating and using the term "sheng nv," they have placed a great deal of pressure on not only unmarried women in their late twenties and thirties, but also their parents.

When people read news reports about "parents blind dating," they cannot deny that social pressure has influenced at least two generations. One unmarried woman with a master's degree was quoted in the article as saying that while her internal spiritual strength is strong enough to resist external teasing and exclusion, she is not strong enough to survive filial pressure from her parents to get married.

Suppose all women were to abandon their dreams of getting advanced academic degrees to get married, would they automatically live happy lives? So why shouldn't they live a lifestyle that they really want and wait until they meet the right person at the right time? If they are the best they can be, they will attract suitable men, and they can let others say whatever they like.

Being single is an individual choice, and a civilized society should be more tolerant of and give more freedom to people to choose their own lifestyles. The concept of "sheng nv" is not only a sign of people's outdated notions but also indicates that Chinese society is not tolerant and respectful of diverse individual lifestyle choices.



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