Sheng Nu or why I would be regarded as “old, like a yellow pearl” in China

Reading The Herald Tribune this morning, I came across this gem of an article, written by Leta Hong Fincher, an  American doctoral student at the Chinese Tsinghua University’s Department of Sociology and former award-winning journalist.

The article gives a unique and fascinating insight into the life of Chinese women.  I was torn between amusement, shock and  bewilderment,  by how backwards the Chinese society appears to be in their perception of women and women’s right.

According to Ms Fincher, “Unmarried women over the age of 27”  are termed leftover women (Sheng Nu) in China, an expression that shockingly has been officially defined by China’s Ministry of Education.  The term has been created by the China’s state feminist agency, the All-China Women’s Federation which was founded by The Communist Party in 1949 to “protect women’s rights and interests.”  This lovely “feminist” agency, supports, encourages and pleases women with statements like:

“The tragedy is, they (women) don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls.”  

(I wonder what they would call me, an unmarried pregnant PhD, already over 30!  I am not sure I want to know!)

The thing to aspire to is to find yourself a husband while you are still young and pretty and before you are ‘left over’, and the Women’s Federation’s view on being cheated on by your husband is equally interesting:

When you find out that he is having an affair, you may be in a towering rage, but you must know that if you make a fuss, you are denying the man “face” … No man is capable of spending a lifetime being loyal to an outmoded wife who never changes … Try changing your hairstyle or your fashion. Women must constantly change for the better.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

And – if you haven’t found the man of your dreams yet, this is obviously your fault and this kind advice might help:

“When holding out for a man, if you say he must be rich and brilliant, romantic and hardworking … this is just being willful. Does this kind of perfect man exist? Maybe he does exist, but why on earth would he want to marry you?”

My twitter friend @EvidenceMatters drew my attention to this publication from the late 19th century on what to do with England’s superfluous women, just to explain, superfluous in this context means ‘single’.  We have fortunately progressed from there, will it take China another 150 years to do so?

Read more shocking revelations about Left-over Women and China’s misogynist propaganda in this other more detailed publication by Leta Hong Fincher and follow her on Twitter.


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2 Responses to Sheng Nu or why I would be regarded as “old, like a yellow pearl” in China

  1. Snigdha says:

    Dear Ute,
    Reading this has really upset me. I met so many intelligent, pleasant women in my time in China this Summer. I had no idea about the attitudes they had to contend with each day. How very sad.

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