The Strong, Bold Women of Shanghai

Shanghainese Women

Subtitle: And the Weak, Timid Men of Shanghai?

It’s one of those anecdotes you hear. “If you’re a guy in Shanghai, you’ll get hit on by scores of Shanghainese girls.” Take this particular anecdote from a friend:

So I think I got propositioned the other day. We were walking down the street… Sandy and Lilly were walking ahead of me, when suddenly, this semi-attractive lady came up to me, smiled, and said something in Mandarin. Confused, I stopped and tried to figure out what she wanted. Then she looked over at Sandy (who was standing there fist on hips… doing the “whut? whut?”), and the lady says “wifey?” in broken English. I said yes and before I can blink, she’s halfway down the block. Damn. Why didn’t I pay more attention in Mandarin class? Well, whatever she wanted, it didn’t involve one having a wife.

That’s funny, I thought. So I did some nosing around and discovered more to this phenomenon.

There are scores of articles on Shanghainese women and their growing status in society. TIMEasia Magazine reports that more women own their own businesses than men (6.6% vs 5.7%). There are also more women in middle management. Quite a difference from the US, where business ownership and middle management is typically male-dominated, eh?

In some ways, strong Shanghainese women are even admired. Jiang Sha, a former machinist, started her own company after being laid off. Her company, Zi Li, is now a leading bottled-water business. Another anecdote:

Now she’s so famous in business-mad Shanghai that a coffee-shop manager rushes over and giggles when she enters. “Very strong woman,” he says, giving a thumbs-up sign.

Unlike the rest of China, many Shanghai couples don’t have a preference for sons either. “My friends even prefer a daughter, since she is more likely to stay close to the family,” said one resident.

This change in women’s status may come from Shanghai becoming China’s first international city. “Strong missionary schools and strong-minded foreign women introduced ideas of female education and equality at the turn of the last century,” writes the Christian Science Monitor.

A stereotype is still a stereotype, however. In China Daily, Meng Yankun of the Shanghai Women’s Federation warns that “women still haven’t fully liberated themselves from putting their roles as mothers and wives ahead of their role as career women.”

So it’s not like Shanghai is a matriarchal society or anything. Though you could argue that many marriages are. Along with all these articles of Shanghainese women, were scores of reports on Shanghainese men.

Such as the guy who got himself arrested, so he could be thrown in jail to avoid “his wife’s nagging abuse.” He actually tried multiple times to rob people with a toy gun, each time unsuccessful. The authorities finally arrested him because he had made so many attempts.

Weird Asia News also adds this to the story:

In China, Shanghai men are well known as “Pa Lao Po”, which means “afraid of wives”. Shanghai women are the dominant ones in the family.

China Daily addresses this issue in the article “Shanghai men: Henpecked or just polite?” It seems that the increasing dominance of women has made a corresponding impression on the public, in terms of the men: Shanghainese men are now called the “little men of Shanghai” in books, movies, and television dramas.

TIMEasia even chimes in with: “Indeed, when it comes to business in Shanghai, there’s only one complaint: the men, it seems, are just too wimpy to negotiate a hard bargain.”

Many Shanghainese men disagree with this perception, naturally. One government official stated, “We Shanghai men not only know the importance of supporting the family financially, but we also know the importance of emotional support and always show consideration to our wives.”

This change in men’s status, like the status of women, may also come from Shanghai’s internationalization. “Shanghai men have learnt the courtesy of Western gentlemen and show more respect to women,” said one Shanghainese woman. “‘hen-pecked-ness’ is actually politeness to the female.”

I’ll bet someone could write a pretty interesting sociological and/or feminist research paper on this whole phenomenon. And whatever the truth is about Shanghainese women and men, I know this much is true: It was Johnny who was hit on in Shanghai, and not his wifey Sandy.

(Photo credit: Sandy Leung)

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Author: Mike

I'm an idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student. And what, you want to Internet-stalk me too? Why, sure.