Sunday, March 12, 2017

Shengnan – “Leftover Men”

In the world of unintended consequences, one of the most interesting examples has to be China’s recently-ended “one-child” mandate. The policy was enforced fiercely, so conceiving couples – with rather free access to state-provided abortion – often emphasized their predilection for males. The statistical result, hardly surprising, was a whole lot more males than females. Women may be grinning at their good fortune, but there are bunch of those “shengnan” – men – who are downright miserable. For a guy in China: Don’t have a solid income or good prospects? Expect a great deal of less-than-great-quality alone time. Maybe a whole lifetime. And even for those who do…
A side-reality, notwithstanding that preference for boys, is that powerful men who sired that single daughter often imbued those female heirs with expectations that used to be reserved for the eldest son. Women found opportunities that would have otherwise been denied them in earlier incarnations of Chinese society. Fathers used their connections for their daughter’s benefit. For men in search of life-partners, this only made life that much more complicated. Want to impress, vie for those precious luscious ladies, many exceptionally well-educated and in senior business of governmental jobs, well it can get downright competitive.
“China has many millions more men than women, a hangover of the country's one-child policy, which was overturned in 2015, though its effects will last decades more. The gender imbalance is making it hard for many men to find a partner – and the gap is likely to widen. By 2020, it’s estimated there will be 30 million more men than women looking for a partner. In his book, The Demographic Future, American political economist Nicholas Eberstadt cites projections that by 2030, more than a quarter of Chinese men in their 30s will not have married.
“Now, with far fewer women than men, the race to find a suitable partner—and win her over before someone else does—has led some men to go to great lengths to find a wife. They’re spending vast sums on creative, sometimes unsuccessful, measures to win a woman over.”, February 14th (Happy Valentine’s Day… not). Rich guys have even paid the equivalent of US$ in seven figures to find a bride. One even sued the dating agency for failing to meet his expectations. Others shower their marital targets with gifts… which can result in humiliating and rather public rejection. And trust me, the women at the top of the dating food chain know who they are… and even those who may have once faced life as a spinster are finding themselves in the catbird seat.
The old “arranged marriages” have been upended in a mix of modernity and massive migration to the big cities. China’s traditional social structures for potential couples to meet still has not adjusted to this demographic anomaly.
Part of the problem is that the old – and new – ways of meeting people are not always working. Chinese New Year has long been an opportunity for single people to meet a partner.  Most people visit the houses of family and friends during the festival, which occurs between late January and mid-February, so singletons have many chances to meet potential partners… But that longstanding tradition of meeting a potential partner has given way to modernity. Online dating is growing fast in China, as elsewhere, and messaging apps such as WeChat are increasingly popular ways of getting to know people.  
“‘China dating is becoming more and more open and more and more familiar with the ways of Western countries in recent years,’ says Jun Li. ‘Young generations have more choice and they are following their hearts rather than parents.’
“The myriad ways to connect coupled with the female majority have upended the way people meet and court in China… Jun Li, from Suzhou in Jiangsu province, in China’s east central coast, is single and in her 20s. She has noticed growing numbers of men on the singles scene ‘organising as teams’ and hiring public entertainment venues for dating events.
“Other men are turning to psychologists and stylists to make themselves more appealing. And to avoid prying questions from inquisitive parents, some are even resorting to hiring ‘fake’ girlfriends to present to their parents using apps such as Hire Me Plz. Reports suggest hiring a girlfriend can cost up to 10,000 yuan ($1,450) a day.” We may have a lot of problems facing us in this modern world, but with a vastly more balanced ratio of men to women in the Wests, that Chinese notion of leftover men is, gratefully, not one of our issues. Whew!
I’m Peter Dekom, and the best-intended governmental policies often have long-lasting and often negative consequences for a whole lot of people… and perhaps some strong benefits for others.

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