Over 27 and unmarried? In China, you’re an old maid

No love for the "leftovers"

By Tang Yue

January and February are sweet times for most Chinese — they enjoy family reunions during the spring festival, which this year fell on January 23, and they celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is well-liked in China.

Women peruse bachelor information cards during a blind date party in Shanghai. (Reuters/Aly Song)

Americans think of China as booming, full of good times. But for the “leftovers,” things can be sour. Leftover girls are Chinese women nearing 30 who remain single. For them, the Spring Festival, centered around Chinese New Year, means a barrage of questions about their marital status. Even relatives they meet only once per year and can hardly name offer them lists of potential spouses. Then comes Valentine’s Day, often spent alone (though some leftovers have matchmaking parties).

Baidu Baike, a popular online encyclopedia in China, defines “leftover girls” as having the three goods — good education, good career and good looks. Good times? Well, let’s just say it ain’t Sex and the City.

Despite a shortage of women in in China, due to the one-child policy and a preference for boys, it’s hard for Chinese women to attract men when they’re past a certain age. The Straits Times in Singapore reported that over 27 and unmarried women in Beijing alone reached 800,000 in 2009 and has been on the rise since.

Mounting pressure

Joyce Yang joined the leftover girls last August, when she turned 27, the age the All-China Women’s Federation formally recognizes as the leftover line.

Now, she fights with her mom about getting married.

“My mother is so worried that she trying to persuade me to ‘seriously consider’ a man who has been courted me for a while but I have no crush on. I always quarrel with her over the phone,” said Yang, who hails from Southwest Yunnan province and now works in Beijing as a journalist.

She wants to get married, but she wants it to be for love. So she recently joined Zhenai.com (“Cherish Love”) a matchmaking site. She spent 4,000 RMB yuan (or $630), almost two-thirds of her monthly salary, on a five-month package that gives her the right to look at full profiles of members and recommendations of men who meet her requirements. She receives offline counseling about “love psychology.” The counselor will also arrange for her to meet certain men.

In her first two months she has chatted with a dozen men online and gone on several dates. One of them even sent her flowers on Valentine’s Day.

“He is smart and cute. But he is not marriage-oriented, at least not at the moment. It doesn’t give me a sense of security,” said Yang. “But at least the website opens another door to meet guys.”

Divorced? Single?

Emily Liang, 36, has been living as a “leftover girl” for nearly 10 years.

Emily Liang’s still looking for the right guy.

She earns a handsome salary as a project manager in an international architect’s office in Beijing and owns an apartment now valued at 5 million RMB yuan ($790,000).

She’s had three relationships since she was 19, including one that lasted for eight years, and another for four. She ended both of those because she felt her partner was too negative about the future. Her third lasted two years, but mutual pride created too much conflict.

Liang has also used an online site. She registered as “divorced” not single, because “most Chinese men consider a woman weird to be single at the age of 36,” she said.

So far, Liang has had little success, saying that the men mostly try to impress her with their money and their cars, both of which bore her.

Money talks

Liang is unusual, if Chinese pop culture is any judge. China’s most popular show is “If You Are the One,” a matchmaking TV program on Jiangsu Satellite TV.

On stage, the men usually boast of their houses, cars and bank accounts. One man offered a woman a ride on a bicycle and was turned down flat. “I’d rather cry in a BMW,” said the woman, Ma Nuo, now famous in China as a “Material Girl,” interested in money, not love.

According to a 2010 survey by the China Association of Marriage and Family Studies, seven out of ten women in Chinese cities want to marry a man with an apartment, stable income and a big bank account.

However, housing prices have skyrocketed in the past decade – Liang’s house costs three times what it did in 2004 when she bought it. Many younger men can’t afford the down payment unless their families are able to help financially. That limits the pool for single Chinese women.

Then there are the leftover boys, poor men in the rural areas. Less talked about in the Chinese media, their plight will become hard to miss — by 2020, China will have 30 million to 40 million more young men than women.

True love

Joyce Yang isn’t willing to settle for a poor farmer. But she knows she must be realistic as she approaches 30 — the deadline she set for herself to have a baby.

“Feeling is something important but is not everything. I was crazy for my ex-boyfriend but a lot of things kept us from being a couple,” she said.

“I’m looking for a man who is loyal, stable and can be a good father now.”

Meanwhile, Emily Liang sticks to the idea of true love.

She is not looking for someone who is rich or so-called successful. He doesn’t have to make more than she does, and they can live in her apartment. But he has to be at least on par in his career and social level, or they won’t “have the common language.”

“I think I’m among a very small percentage of the leftovers that still have faith in true love, especially at such an age. I won’t marry someone just because we have similar conditions. The crush is a must,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s a plus. It will probably make it harder for me to find the one. True love is harder to find than a BMW.”

  • stuart neary

    i love my mercedes marry up dont settle for a peasent bmw i live in new zealand have a large house on one acre of land but do not have a chinee girlfriend or chinee wife or children i wish i had
    i am a left over to thats the price of been a gentle nice guy so there is nothing wrong with you dear
    people are blind to golden hearts and settle for brass
    you have a golden heart and i hope you find your gold at the end of the rainbow

  • Ashrafuddin Pirzada

    Emily it was nice information about you, i like such things you have or want. i am not looking persons interested in true love but money is every thing for them.. i wish you good luck..
    Pirzada.Pakistan, 0300-2737152
    Age, 35, profession, Journalist/social worker

    • Emily

      Hi Pirzada,

      Thank you for all the nice things you wrote… I wish you all the best and good luck as well..