In China, single women over 25 years old are now creatively called shengnu. With exactly the same sound as the Chinese word for saint woman, shengnu actually means leftover women.
Last week, I had a chance to talk with 10 attractive and successful unmarried women in this age group. Each had a different reason for not being married, but they all had one thing in common: their parents have given them a poor education about romantic relationships. Their parents, like most Chinese parents, are so conservative and backward in their mind-set about marriage that it directly leads to their daughters becoming shengnu.
Many leftover women, especially Shanghainese, have always been “good girls.” Following their parents’ advice, they didn’t date boys in high school or at university – and maybe not even in the first two years of their careers.
But once a girl turns 25, her parents become anxious, even desperate, for her to get married. They don’t understand why their excellent daughter can’t find a boyfriend. They set up their daughters up on blind dates that they don’t want to go on, and go to the matchmaking corner that is held regularly at People’s Square.
In many parents’ eyes, a relationship is like a faucet. It can be turned on and off at will. The purpose of dating is to marry and it has to be done on the first try. When I told my parents that I broke up with my first boyfriend they were astonished. “Then why did you go out with him for a year?” they asked. They are greatly influenced by Mao Zedong whose philosophy goes as those who are in love and don’t consider marriage as an intention are regarded as hooligans!
According to those Shanghainese parents, their daughters shouldn’t be in a relationship before 24 and must be married by 25. That leaves us with one year to find a husband.
For parents who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, there weren’t any leftover women because the government wouldn’t let you remain unmarried. There were labor unions, the women’s federation and youth league committees who helped single employees find partners. Most parents never experienced a real relationship. Back then, a girl just needed to stay at home and wait for someone to propose.
So this is what they teach their daughters. Be good at home and we will find you a husband. Most leftover women still live with their parents. They are legally single, but I think they are really married to their parents, in a matter of speaking.
I believe that shengnu should start by moving out of their parents’ home. You don’t have to own a house. You could rent or even share the apartment. Of course many parents don’t see the point. But have leftover women got the point?
Parents are to blame because they manipulate their daughters. However, girls bear some of the responsibility because they are too obedient.
As one of the girls I talked with said she was trying to move out but her parents didn’t allow her to. She gave in. Isn’t it pathetic that a 30-year-old woman can’t decide her own life?
In my opinion, the first thing that these leftover girls should do is to fight with the old-fashioned thoughts of their parents. They are more experienced than us in many aspects, but when it comes to relationships, I don’t think they are experts. Like my parents, most parents of post 80s got married with their one and only partner in their life. How much do they know about men or women and the complicated relationship? We can’t expect our parents to teach us how to manage a relationship or when to get married.