Unlucky in love
China’s one-child rule makes finding a spouse a struggle
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 18:02
When Mei Wong* was born, her father’s family did not welcome her. Her grandmother and relatives from the countryside were cold and distant. In 1987, they would have preferred a baby boy.
The family’s shot at a male heir was ruined. The Chinese government’s one-child policy, implemented in 1979, prevented the new parents from trying again.
As Wong, a doctoral candidate at UB, grew up and proved herself a good student, she gained more appreciation from her relatives. But only recently did Wong’s value to the Chinese population skyrocket.
In the ’80s, the one-child policy created an imbalance between males and females as parents aborted female fetuses in an effort to have a son.
By 2020, China is expected to have 24 million more men than women, leading to an aging generation of bachelors, according to Pulitzer Center.
Wong believes the imbalance will become a “serious” social problem.
“Males who are considered ‘losers’ by society [find it] difficult to find a proper spouse,” Wong said in an email. “It might cause more rapes or sexual crimes. Some males even buy ‘brides’ illegally from the extremely poor families or other countries.”
Despite the lack of available women, males often overlook females who are highly educated.
Wong believes Chinese men sexually discriminate against her and other women in academia for being “boring, nerdy and colorless.” Wong, 26, is not concerned and knows she will find someone who has a similar background and passion, but her parents worry about her finding a husband.
Today, parents are so worried about their children not being social enough to find a spouse that they arrange blind dates and attend baby matchmaking events in China. In some cases, the children are barely old enough to speak, according to ABC News.
Xiangli Ding, a 27-year-old Asian history Ph.D. student, does not think the one-child policy is an issue. He was born to parents who already had a baby girl. For breaking the law, they only had to pay a fine, he said.
Currently, parents who have one extra child can face a fine higher than $31,000, according to CNN. Though in some areas of China, parents in rural areas are allowed to have two children.
“I think the unbalanced sex ratio is just a national statistic,” Ding said. “It has very limited impact on an individual’s spouse-choosing behavior – at least for myself and my friends.”
Ding met his wife in school and has never been on an arranged date. However, he has taken advice from his parents on what characteristics to look for in a woman, he said.
Whether or not the government has a one-child policy will make no difference when it comes to preferring male babies in China, according to Roger Des Forges, a history professor.
He believes the “partiality to males” is not going away anytime soon. China has always been a patriarchal society.
Women have been pushed to marry into money and political power. A man who can provide his wife a life of luxury is considered a “good person,” according to Wong. A man who makes his wife happy and has a similar personality to hers is not highly valued.
There have been signs in China that the 33-year-old policy may be coming to an end, but it will not resolve the gender-imbalance issue, according to Reuters.
Des Forges believes in order to combat the problem, the general population has to recognize women are of equal importance to men. If nothing is done, the aging bachelors – termed “bare sticks” in China – will become a “source of a lot of social tension,” he said.
“They have less to lose,” Des Forges said. “They don’t have a spouse and they don’t have children. They would be potential recruits to other activities, legal and illegal.”
Education is the answer, he said.
Rural men in China have a significantly decreased chance of finding a spouse because women tend to move to big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, according to Wong.
Wong has a lot of single, successful female friends in China who she believes are held back by the patriarchal belief that the man should be the head of the family.
In China, a man who is less successful than his wife is so shameful that even friends will make jokes about him. It means at some point he failed, Wong said.
“But the reality is it’s complicated and anything could happen,” she said. Sometimes males marry wealthier women and the children use her family name to be more successful, Wong said.
Wong’s studies in America prove she is not the submissive Chinese baby with whom her family was disenchanted in 1987. With time, she hopes other girls will become more empowered and appreciated for being individuals rather than a lucky find for a husband.
*Names have been changed to protect source identity.