Chinese Leftover Women


In most parts of the world, women are still living under a lot of stereotypes. For example, women should get married around their twenties and have a baby around thirties. Women should do housework, stay home and take care of the child, women should…etc etc etc. In the 21st century, it’s still hard to change some old fashioned ideas and ways of thinking. Today, we’ll talk about the origin of the term “leftover women” and how people deal with this term in China.

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What is a “Chinese Leftover Woman”?

Sheng nu (剩女; shèngnǚ; common translation: “leftover women” or “leftover ladies”)  This term is used, prominently in China, on women who remain unmarried in their late twenties and beyond, also known as the 3S (Single, Sensitive, Stuck). In Japan, “Christmas cakes” refers to unmarried women aged over 26. (meaning, nobody wants it after the 25th) Meanwhile, “New Year’s noodles” refers to single women aged over 32. (meaning, nobody wants it after the 31st) “败犬” (bài quǎn) meaning unmarried women aged over 30. “鲁蛇” (lǔ shé)  is directly translated from English “Loser”. “单身狗” (dānshēn gǒu) means single people are like dogs, eager for caring.  Of course, these are really mean ways to refer to unmarried women or single people.

People even leveled it into 4 stages.

  1. Women age 25-27 are 剩斗士” (Shhèng dòushì) ”The Last Knight”. The term is playing with homophonic, from a Japanese comic book called 《圣斗士星矢》(shèng dòushì xīngshǐ) “Saint Seiya”. It literally means that women should keep fighting the battle of finding their other half.
  2. Women age 28-30 are ” 必剩客(bì shèng kè) ”Doomed to be Single”. The term is also using homophonic from the translation of “Pizza Hut” ” “. “Doomed to be single” is a widely known phrase around the world. In this case, it refers to women who’re concentrating on work and have no time for relationships.
  3. Women age 31-35 are 斗战 (dòu zhàn shèng fú) “The Last Winning Buddha”. This is as well using homophonic from a term in a Chinese novel around 16th century called “Journey to The West” “西遊記” (xīyóu jì). “斗战佛” (dòu zhàn shèng fú) “The Winning Buddha” was given to the main character Wukong once he ascended to Buddhahood at the end of the Journey to the West. Here, the term refers to women who survived in the battlefield of their career, as they are “high class” single women.
  4. Women aged over 35 are 齐天大剩(qí tiān dà shèng) “The Great Heaven Like Leftover”. Without question, it’s also playing with homophonic, and the term is as well from the novel “Journey to The West” “西遊記” (xīyóu jì). The main character Wukong took his friend’s advice and called himself “齐天大圣” (qí tiān dà shèng) “The Great heaven like sage”. However, here it means those successful women with huge mansion and sedan but they still remain single.


Unmarried women are “incomplete”

In Chinese culture, the goal in life is marriage and children. Once you’re married, your life is successful. On the contrary, if you don’t have a child and remain single, you’ll be viewed as a “loser” in life. Leftover women may have started as a meaning of just someone unmarried over the age of 27, but has gone on to mean and express much more than that. Failure to find a husband is due to main reasons — overly high expectations for marriage partners — for one. A lot of pressure and stereotypes on these older unmarried women.

“Before people thought women should marry early, otherwise they are left over,” said a college student in Shanghai. “But now, it’s OK if women put their career in first place, marriage in second or third place.” Women are more free, able to live independently. This phenomenon is largely accredited the growing educated middle class. 

Aren’t there more “Leftover Men?”

China’s newly abolished one-child policy revealed society’s great preference for a boy over a girl. The sex-selective abortions led to a disproportionate gender imbalance with approximately 30 million more men than women. In fact, by 2030, up to one out of four men aged over 30 will be single and unmarried. For this reason, the party currently sees this as a threat to social stability, meanwhile, putting pressure on unmarried women.

With the number of unmarried men in China soon to reach the population size of Australia, fewer women are feeling the threat of the feared title hovering over them. Instead, for Chinese women, the scarcity means they increasingly hold the cards in the marriage market and can afford to wait longer before settling down.


Being single is not a sin

The SKII ad touched numbers of women in China. “I am a single girl and I needed to see this ad, to tell me that I am not alone and I am not wrong for my choices. One can be happy without a man. We have not wronged others, then why shouldn’t be punished for our choices in life ?” said a woman in Beijing. In other words, it’s ok to be single and spend more time with yourself. Figuring out who you are and who you want to become. After all, this is could count as the first step for their women rights, the rise of feminist.  

Marriage isn’t everything. No more arranged married, or rush into married just because of your family. Take as long as you need to make your decision. It’s your decision, your life since you only live once.

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