I sat down with Joy Chen, a Los Angeles based author, weeks ago for a story I am working on, which is about Chinese “leftover women,” a Chinese social phenomenon stigmatizing educated, urban and single women over age 27.
Chen is a super star in China nowadays, she was named Women Of The Year by All-China Women Federation last year. It all started with her book Do Not Marry Before Age 30, (for an alternative viewpoint, see Johnny C’s previous review) a soul searching guide for Chinese women about the changing women’s role, women’s empowerment and gender equality in today’s Chinese society, and it has become the best seller in China.
There is a reason why this book is so popular in China.
The uprising middle class Chinese women are yearning for an outlet for their long surpressed voices under the thousand-year old culture which defined them only as mothers and wives. The new generation of Chinese women is challenging that role unconsciously by pushing their marrying age. Last month, Sohu, one of China’s largest online news websites, published an infographic showing that among Chinese single women over age 30, 48 percent has a masters degree or above and 36 percent has a monthly income of 15,000RMB(about $2,400) or above, while their male counterparts only have 37 percent with a masters degree or above and 29 percent with a monthly income of 15,000RMB or above.
The educated, smart and independent Chinese women start to take over their lives, despite of the male-centered culture. But when they look around, it’s all noise from parents, relatives and coworkers pressuring them to hurry up marrying themselves before age 27. Everywhere they go, they are asked the same questions over and over again—do you have a boyfriend yet? When will you get married? When will you have babies? It seems like what people around her cares more about her being a mother and a wife then being a happy single professional.
I am in my late 20s, and recently obtained a master degree in journalism from University of Southern California. In my working class family in China, I was the first one graduating from college and getting a masters in one of the top universities in the United States. I won four-year scholarships in my undergrad, traveled around the world to partcipate in international debate tournaments, and trained Chinese high school and university students English Parlimentary debate, something that many of my male peers had not achieved. Though my parents are proud of my accomplishments, their primal concern is still my marital status. It worries them that I am a single woman in my late 20s. Some of the more blatant comment coming from relatives is that there is no use for me, a woman, to be this ambitious, because I have to get married in the end.
Well, I came from a small town in Canton, which is a very traditional place. Most of my high school friends are married and have kids now. I am one of the few who managed to leave the town and then the country by myself.
It is interesting that how in the 21st century where gender equality has achieved a greater level than any other time in history, a lot of people still think that a woman’s role belongs to a man, and how getting married and raising family is her primal and most crucial task that it can’t be done simultaneously with her building her career.
Chen’s book is a Chinese version of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Chinese women are waking up from the thousand-year culture and tradition. This is not what this generation of women want. They want freedom, respect and independence, and they are starting making noise now, which of course, offends the conformists. They need a role model to tell them that it’s OK to remain single after age 30, it’s OK to be independent, it’s OK to strong and powerful, and having all of those means you are still attractive and desirable. Chen came in at this particular moment in the changing Chinese society and its value. She set a working example of having a successful career and a happy family by being independent, taking care of herself, and married at age 38.
It took America some 50 years and a women movement in the 60s to come to what we have this day. But Chen said, there will never be a women movement in China as the 1960s in the U.S., “Because the government won’t allow people to go out on the streets and take off their bras.” But with the growing economic power, Chinese women’s empowerment is going to be a spiritual awakening, and “I think it’s starting to happen,” Chen said.
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