21-year-old’s suicide highlights pressures men face in marriage market in China

Men outnumber women in China, and they are expected to be the financial provider in a relationship. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

BEIJING – A recent case of a Chinese man who killed himself after his girlfriend took all his money and dumped him has struck a nerve in a country where men vastly outnumber women and face pressure to provide for their other half even before marriage.

Video gamer Liu Jie, 21, leapt off a bridge in the south-western city of Chongqing on April 11, Chinese media reported, based on social media posts made by Mr Liu’s older sister and friends, who posted chats he had with his former girlfriend, including his money transfers to her.

Mr Liu was more popularly known by his online moniker Pang Mao, or Fat Cat, named after a character in a popular video game.

The tragedy was the most discussed topic on Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging platform, when the death was reported in late April, attracting 120 million views and sparking 735,000 discussion threads so far.

Analysts say the case has resonated with many young Chinese, particularly men, who face very high odds in trying to find a wife and are expected to be the main financial provider in a relationship.

Assistant Professor Mu Zheng of the National University of Singapore’s sociology and anthropology department told The Straits Times that the prevailing view in Chinese society is that “men should be the providers in exchange for women’s feminine qualities, such as beauty, youth, emotional support and domestic responsibilities”.

The issue is “patriarchal expectations for men and women”, added the lecturer, who studies marriages and families in both Singapore and China.

The exchange between Mr Liu and his former girlfriend, Prof Mu said, shows the typical expectations of such relationships, given Mr Liu’s money transfers and the woman’s willingness to be his girlfriend in exchange.

According to Chinese media reports, Mr Liu met his girlfriend online in 2022, but they met in person only in late 2023. His girlfriend had promised to marry him by the end of 2024.

The young man, who moved to Chongqing from central Hunan province two years ago, earned a living by “training” the video game characters of other gamers.

He had reportedly spent the past two years cooped up in a room without a comfortable bed or mattress. He did not see a doctor when ill and could not bear to spend money for a McDonald’s lunch, choosing instead to have simple vegetables, according to his posts online.

But Mr Liu is said to have transferred all his earnings – a total of 510,000 yuan (S$97,300) – to his girlfriend to fund her business venture and holidays, among other things.

The Hunan police are investigating to see if her actions amounted to a scam.

Mr Liu’s suicide set off an outpouring of grief online and offline, with netizens ordering deliveries of McDonald’s meals and milk tea to the bridge where he died as a tribute to him.

Netizens ordered deliveries of McDonald’s meals and milk tea to the bridge in Chongqing as a tribute to Mr Liu Jie. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM DOUYIN

Many men identified with the pressure Mr Liu faced to financially support his girlfriend.

Young Chinese told ST that the skewed gender ratio in the country worsens the problem, with men facing high odds of finding a wife.

According to China’s 2020 national population census, the country has 30 million more men than women.

For those between the ages of 20 and 40 – considered the marriageable age range in China – men outnumber women by 17.52 million, which translates into 108.9 men per 100 women. 

Even though younger generations of Chinese are more educated, traditional beliefs about how men should provide financially for their girlfriends or wives are still common.

A Chinese man is often expected to have a house and car before a woman would marry him. A suitor is also expected to provide a betrothal gift, or cai li in Mandarin, to his bride-to-be’s family.

Young Chinese told ST that Mr Liu Jie’s death underscored the high pressure men face in today’s China, where expenses are growing while income growth is slowing.

Shanghai financial planner Xu Linsheng, 30, said men should not always be expected to be the provider because “sometimes, women are the ones who make more money”.

He added: “The person who can earn more money can contribute more, and the other party can decide how much they want to give, based on discussions with each other.”

A conversation on Weixin that allegedly teaches women how to scam men out of bridal prices, which can include high amounts of cash, a house and a car. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM WEIBO

Beijing data analyst Zhang Qiang, 27, hopes that there can be more discussions about the need for cai li or bridal price. “We need to make sure that things improve so that Pang Mao’s death wouldn’t be in vain,” he added.

Mr Zhang said the practice of bridal price seems to “suggest that the parents are selling their daughter or that those who have the means are the only ones who deserve to get married”. He remarked: “That’s really unfair.”

Public relations manager Summer He, 29, said she was saddened by the suicide.

“What happened to Pang Mao is a tragedy, and an extreme example of what happens in a romantic relationship. In fact, I wouldn’t even call what he had a relationship. He was the victim of a horrible scam. The culprit is truly heartless,” she added.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.