Lonely Valentine's for millions of Chinese bachelors

A woman placing a heart-shaped sticker at a Beijing mall on Valentine's Day, which is commercialised in big Chinese cities, but its focus on couples can leave China's singles frustrated.
A woman placing a heart-shaped sticker at a Beijing mall on Valentine's Day, which is commercialised in big Chinese cities, but its focus on couples can leave China's singles frustrated.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHANGHAI • If you are a "single dog", a "bare branch", a "leftover man" or a "leftover woman" - all monikers for unmarried Chinese - you may find Valentine's Day particularly trying.

Judging by the numbers, quite a few of the long faces that day should belong to men.

That is because China's gender gap remains wide.

There were 33.59 million more men than women in China last year, according to figures from the country's National Bureau of Statistics issued last month, and 48.78 per cent of China's 1.38 billion people are female, compared with a global average of 49.55 per cent.

But the gender ratio in China appears to be falling, from a high of 121 boys born for every 100 girls in 2004 to about 113.5 boys in 2015, according to official figures.

For men, especially those lower on the socio-economic ladder, marriage can be hard to attain.

The reasons for the gap are well known: a traditional preference for boys, compounded by the "one child" policy instituted in 1979 that led millions of couples to abort female foetuses.

Worried by one of the world's lowest fertility rates, the government changed the policy last year to permit all couples to have two children.

New York University Shanghai's psychology professor Li Xuan, who studies fatherhood and relationships, saw "a lot of stressed-out people" on Valentine's Day.

"A lot of the consumerist and entertainment activities are so geared towards couples that you kind of get a bit of hurt everywhere in the big cities in China," she noted.

Yet the percentage of people who are married in China is higher than in more economically developed Asian societies such as Japan and Singapore, and some Western nations, Prof Li said.

According to 2010 national census data, about 24.7 per cent of Chinese men and 18.5 per cent of women above 15 have never been married, Prof Li said.

By contrast, she added, figures for Japan show 31.3 per cent and 22.9 per cent of people in comparable categories have not tied the knot.

In other words, despite the gender gap - which is causing problems, especially for poorer, rural men - marriage is widespread in China. So how serious is the plight of China's "single dogs", as unmarried men are jokingly called?

Said Prof Li: "Chinese culture believes that everything rests on the family.

"If the family collapses, it's like the world is over, so now the family seems to be collapsing, and I guess that maybe pushes the button a little more among Chinese people."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Lonely Valentine's for millions of Chinese bachelors'. Print Edition | Subscribe