Expired Women and Family Obligations

Seven’s post yesterday touched on many of the aspects of getting married in modern China. Today I’d like to look at a few of those issues closer to wrap up this five-part series (just check the archive).

Seven called them “expired” but the more popular term in Chinese is “Left-over.” The following video features “Left-over women”(shengnu), the term describes women who are seen as being unmarriageable. One factor being that they are older than 25 (Chinese women are pretty much expected to marry as soon as they finish college), and that they make a lot of money or are highly educated (Chinese men find this kind of woman intimidating).

Before you feel too bad for these women in the video, or start wondering why they are still single, allow me to translate a snippet,

“A man with a house and a car is what women long for
Marrying the right person is their biggest wish
I will ask if you have a car, I will ask you if you have a house
My mother will also ask you how much savings you have
If you have no car, if you also have no house
Hurry move aside and don’t block my way”

In America we might classify these women as gold-diggers, but in China these are becoming requirements for marriage.

One of my friends recently told me that she had been dating a man for 5 years, but because he didn’t have his own car, her parents would not approve of their marriage. Sadly, she ended up breaking up with him instead of confronting her parents.

The list of what makes an ideal husband can be quite different from what we might say in the West.

I’ve asked students about this before and often their top five factors are salary, housing, height, looks, and education. You might have noticed that there is nothing in the top five that actually indicates whether or not he is a good person, or whether or not they are in love (based on an in class poll in Guangxi). The really crazy part is that even when you point this out, they don’t usually change their answers.

As Seven pointed out yesterday, “Marriage is between two families,” it is not just about marrying the person you love. Anything else would be considered unfillial.

My final example of this comes from a homosexual student I knew a few years ago. He had known his entire life that he was different, but didn’t dare expose himself. I was the only other person that knew his secret. After a very long conversation about what his future plans might be he casually told me that he would probably just marry a woman to make his grandmother happy.

This is the reality for homosexuals in China. There was even a recent report on a marriage club in Shanghai where lesbians and gays would enter into fake marriages so that their parents would finally leave them alone (the article provides another fascinating look at marriage). It seems extreme, but like I have said before, Chinese people are willing to sacrifice for their families in ways that are hard for foreigners to comprehend.

If I haven’t yet covered an aspect of Chinese weddings or marriage that you are interested in please let me know by leaving a comment below. There is still much more that could be said, and I will come back to it eventually.

9 responses to “Expired Women and Family Obligations”

  1. I remember encountering the same phenomenon in Japan in the 60’s. As I recall it, the young women’s demands were (crudely transliterated), “sitski, carski, babanike”: “house, car, no mother-in-law.”

    And I also noticed that not only did Japanese make real, lifelong sacrifices for their families; they were also willing to do so for their country. What a concept!

  2. john book says:

    The video had a cute catchy tune… the words, translated sounded pretty much, “me” oriented as you have stated. Tokyo girls especially seem to have this same attitude but also, as I mentioned earlier are more inclined to be the parasite single. Some girls will even date a westerner…until she becomes pregnant…and then dump him since she doesn’t need him any longer….she got what she really wanted.

    There is a split in attitudes in Japan some like the idea of marrying for love…so they don’t want parents arrangements…. others want material goods like this Chinese video illustrates so well… and as above other just want material goods without the “baggage” of a man/husband.

    Since you mentioned in an earlier posting that Chinese girls are expected to be virgins when they “start to get married”…(not necessarily on the wedding day)… how did this video show such a condition with the girls they chose? They all looked pretty …ah….worldly….

    Keep up your good efforts here sir. I look forward to reading you each day now….

    • Tom says:

      The comments posted in response to this video are mostly negative, many referring to their “worldly-ness”. There was also a survey floating around to gauge how expired you were, for women being a virgin was +20 points or -20points, while it had no effect on the men’s rating.

  3. But Chinese women ARE gold-diggers! Didn’t your mother tell you this???

    As for the case of the parents who quibbled about their daughter’s boyfriend not having a car, they deserve to have their daughter married or unmarriable with that pathetic attitude of theirs. People like that get no sympathy. I mean, do they want descendants or a BMW, I ask you?

    As for the poll results and people not changing their answers, the Chinese as a whole are a pretty stubborn lot (but most probably not so individually). The Chinese are very economical in their use of words and thinking, mostly because to switch answers is tantamount to an admission of defeat. So, once said, no withdrawal. This behaviour is more the case with Chinese mainlanders than (say) Hongkongers. It’s probably got to do more with the education system and general social atmosphere since the Communist Party took over – because that kind of aversion to defeat/being wrong just doesn’t exist in much-older folks whose formative years were before WW2. But I could be wrong – what the hell do I know as a Chinaman?

    I don’t wish to steal the author’s thunder especially on his/her own blogsite, but I honestly have to say that this idea of “a marriage is between two families” is crap. I spent some growing-up time in Italy, Lebanon and Japan – countries that ALSO have the same idea – but no sane Italian, Lebanese or Japanese will take that precept that far. Truth is, it’s just a convenient excuse and we all have to realise this with the Chinese. I use it all the time, in business and in personal relationships – it just saves time in explaining things in detail. It’s the same with pulling out the ‘harmony’ card when people don’t want to talk about things: social intercourse is about harmony between two greater parties (and all that jazz). Geddit?

    • Tim says:

      There actually really is a tremendous amount of bargaining that goes on between families about a marriage and if the families don’t approve, the marriage doesn’t usually happen. Seven wasn’t making that stuff up yesterday, Tom’s not making it up today, it’s REAL, it happens. I could name multiple friends or friends of friends that have experienced this exact thing – one or both families don’t like their childs’ chosen partner and ‘poof’, it’s over. People really will sacrifice their personal and emotional feelings to make their family happy.
      To a Westerner, this is completely illogical, but Western countries have no deep-rooted sense of filial duty, instead individual choice and happiness is stressed, the parents want the child to make a choice that will make the child happy, generally speaking.

      • I believe you that people aren’t making these things up. Heaven knows this sort of thing happens all too often even here in Hong Kong where the social fabric is considerably less Chinese (or, if you like, more Westernised) than on mainland China. You are absolutely right that this is the reality. In my own family, we have relatives who have done precisely the same thing – ultimately with quite unfavourable results to their own well-being in their later years.

        What is also a reality is that the idea of ‘filial piety’ isn’t quite as uniform among the Chinese as some make it sound to be. It also has a lot to do with the social class of the people involved. Broadly speaking, the Chinese upper class are relatively more able to ‘suspend’ the filial piety and self-sacrifice thing than could the lower classes – but that doesn’t mean they would in the absolute sense. I suppose it’s like the upper classes in any other country – they have choices and advantages in life that people of the other classes don’t have.

        But then, grandpa’s words keep flooding back to me, that ultimately it’s being filial to be happy (words to that effect).

        Good, solid, thought-moving post, much appreciated (as are the comments).

      • Tom says:

        Thank you nakedlistener. Glad you are joining the conversation.

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