China's wife shortage

Shannon Roberts
March 2, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

Millions of Chinese bachelors feel crippled by the pressure to find a wife in a country where there a few to be found. So much so, they are going to ever more extreme lengths to secure one. It is understandably important to a Chinese family with only one son that he marry and produce grandchildren; a financial and emotional pressure felt by both only children and their parents brought about by the unnatural, forced one child policy.

While historically a bride's family would provide a dowry to her husband's family, now potential brides are the ones being offered marriage incentives and "bride prices". Marriage is increasingly approached as a sort of business deal in which women are encouraged by their families to marry up, and men feel the pressure to own a home, car and have a good income to be seen as an eligible husband.

Sun Xiaobo wrote last week in the Chinese Global Times of the hardship financially disadvantaged families face:

With men lining up outside, women are well-positioned to ask for stacks of cash, jewelry, apartments and cars as preconditions for marrying a man. While widows used to be looked down upon in rural areas, echoing a traditional cultural disdain for the idea of women remarrying, they have now become unexpectedly popular and don't need to worry about finding a new spouse at all.

In this context, financially disadvantaged families can hardly afford to get a marriage for their sons and sometimes even resort to criminal methods, such as buying abducted women. No one cares much about the basic requirement for a marriage such as mutual understanding and feelings.

In her newly released book " One Child ", journalist Mei Fong also discusses families who struggle financially because of their extreme efforts to find a wife for their only son:

With men vying for a limited number of bridges, parents are chipping in to help them buy apartments and enhance their eligibility.

…I met one such 'fangnu' in Tian Qingeng, twenty-five, a good natured lathe operator, in 2013... To increase his eligibility, his parents emptied their savings - all $45,000 - and borrowed an addition $35,000 from relatives, to buy a two-bedroom apartment in central Ninghai. Every month, mortgage payments take up roughly 80 percent of Tian and his parents' combined income.

…A few months before we met Tian went on his one and only date, a fix-up arranged by his uncle… The conversation was turgid. He was disappointed. Her face, he complained, wasn't "harmonious". He said he didn't know what to say to her. In truth, he didn't know what to say to any woman his age, having no sisters and working in an all-male environment.

Over three decades of a one child policy which resulted in families favouring the birth of sons has meant there are just not enough girls to go around. Moreover, girls are completely foreign creatures to many of China's pressured, young, male only children not sure where to start on the dating scene:

A broad survey by Chinese media and academics last year revealed the pervasive shortage of young women of marriageable age in the countryside. Chinese people, particularly in the countryside, used to try every conceivable method to have a boy and get rid of girls, but the gender balance may now have shifted. The more sons a rural family has, the more disadvantages it faces in the marriage market.

…Amid these gloomy clouds, there's one silver lining: at least those who used to prefer boys now come to realize the importance of those that hold up half of the sky.

Indeed girls do 'hold up half the sky' as this journalist puts it, and a society without equal feminine contribution is impoverished. China is learning a hard lesson about the heavy downsides of forced reproductive policy and millions of aborted girls. Meanwhile, it is everyday people who must live with the hardship caused.