HONG KONG • Demonised by the government, pestered by parents and pitied by the media, the pressure on China's "leftover women" to settle down can be unbearable, author Leta Hong Fincher said.
But emboldened by a nascent organised feminist movement and the proliferation of social media, some women are starting to fight back, she added.
The authorities coined the derogatory term "leftover women" to shame or scare urban professionals into marriage, with the ultimate aim of creating "high-quality" babies, she said, citing a 2007 China State Council plan to improve the population "quality".
The "campaign was backed up by many agencies of the state", including media outlets, added Ms Fincher, whose book Leftover Women: The Resurgence Of Gender Inequality In China highlights the position of well-educated, urban, professional women who choose to remain single after the age of 27.
There was tremendous social media discussion about women's rights and their bodies. That kind of public discussion is relatively new... I think there are many more middle-class women in China who are aware... about their rights.
AUTHOR LETA HONG FINCHER
The release of the book early last year triggered a debate on China's social media platforms, and a modest backlash is now taking place.
Ms Fincher, who lectures at the Centre for China Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, pointed to the huge response to 41-year-old actress Xu Jinglei's confirmation that she had gone to the United States to freeze her eggs, which single women on the mainland are banned from doing. State-run broadcaster CCTV ran a report defending the ban, prompting over 30,000 comments on the station's Weibo account, attacking the policy.
Ms Fincher said: "There was tremendous social media discussion about women's rights and their bodies. That kind of public discussion is relatively new... I think there are many more middle-class women in China who are aware... about their rights."
There are other signs that the stance is softening, she added - the All-China Women's Federation has deleted many posts on the subject, and the "brutal crudity of the state media" has lessened. "Women in urban China are becoming more like their counterparts in Japan, Taiwan or South Korea."
But Ms Fincher conceded that the abolition of the one-child policy could create fresh issues, saying: "We are likely to see new propaganda urging urban, educated women to have two children. This may well create new pressures on women in their 20s to marry."