A while back, we talked about why it is that so many educated women in urban centers can’t find a man (Sexless in The City). In countries like China, where there is a huge surplus of men, finding a partner shouldn’t be difficult for women. I thought I would post a letter I received this week from Niko Bell who tells me that for Chinese women finding a man is not as easy as we might think:
I liked your article. I hope we really do see the movement on the ground that you give the policy credit for.
Given that men outnumber women in China by a reasonable margin, you would think that women would have an easy time picking out mates. Not always the case, many of my friends tell me.
According to projections by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, this year will see 23 million more Chinese men of marriageable age than women. The fault mostly lies with gender-specific abortions in a culture that still values male babies over female. This era should be a great time to be a Chinese woman, with lots of potential partners to choose from. As it turns out, however, some women are still ending up lonely. To understand why, there are a few things that you need to know about finding a mate in China.
First, wealth matters. Many Chinese women place high value on a husband with money and stability. In a now famous moment from a Chinese dating show, a female contestant rejected a suitor with the iconic line, “I would rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.”
Second, men have to marry downwards. It is humiliating for a Chinese man to be married to a woman with a higher or even equal income. Instead, men prefer to marry women slightly below them on the social ladder.
Third, the Chinese social strata are distinct and significant. For the first time this year, words like “Jia man” and “Yi woman” became officially recognized words in the Chinese lexicon. Jia men and women are rich businesspeople and professionals. Yi’s are middle class people with stable jobs. Then come Bing’s, lower class city folk and relatively well off country folk. Then come Ding’s, poor country folk or factory workers – the lowest of the low. As we learned above, Jia men prefer Yi women, Yi men prefer Bing women, and Bing men prefer Ding women.
Life is good for Ding women. If they are attractive enough, they have a good chance of marrying upwards into Bing families in the city. The poor Ding men, especially in the country where the gender divide is most evident, are left in a bind. Their own women are disappearing, and marrying upwards would be a humiliation. Even if a Ding man got over his pride, it would be hard for him to find a Bing woman who would take him over all the available Bing and Yi men. Of those 23 million bachelors, most of them will be found here, among poor men in the countryside.
There is one other group, however, that finds itself left out of this game of social musical chairs: Jia women. Jia men are usually rich enough to afford a stay at home wife, which is preferable, so they take their pick of Yi women. Yi men may need money a little more, but not enough to suffer the humiliation of a wife with a higher income. Thus, the poor Jia woman finds herself unable to find a mate by virtue of her high income.
There is little chance of convincing any of these left over men and women to get together. If, however, you are a successful man looking for a career oriented woman, or a woman looking for an old fashioned life in the rice fields, you know where to go.
Niko Bell studies Journalism at the University of King’s College. He first travelled to China on a whim in 2006, and has since gone back three times to teach, travel, study, and enter reality TV shows. He is now taking a year away from Halifax to study Mandarin at the University of Nanjing. Niko also writes for the Dalhousie Gazette.