The authors of the original bilateral trade agreements between the Peoples Republic of China and the Unites States never saw this coming: A Chinese export so tantalizing, American men would spend thousands of dollars to acquire it. And yet it’s popularity is only now catching on. It’s known as “Sheng Nu”. Leftovers.
Specifically: Chinese “leftover” women.
Despite a surplus of over 20 million men in Chinese society, Chinese women in their late 20’s and above are finding it difficult to find a husband. This, despite being attractive, professionally employed, and eager to settle down. China’s women have abundant opportunities to find work and earn a good living. What is it, then, that prevents so many from finding their way to the alter? In fact, it’s the very culture they thrive in.
For years, the Chinese government sponsored Women’s Federation has been pushing fast-tracking females to let go of professional pursuits in exchange for life as a stay-at-home wife and mother. “If you’re still unwed by age 27,” the widely-read Federation website says, “You’ll be ‘leftover’ and unwanted.” The negative connotation of the “Sheng Nu” label is so strong, many observers say, it renders a stigma that scares away potential suitors. And Chinese men, according to the South China Morning Post, are deeply obsessed with finding a less accomplished, more submissive women to marry.
Sociologist and author Leta Hong Fincher, writing for the New York Times Opinion pages, accuses China’s government of fomenting chauvinism by sponsoring tabloid articles like “Do Leftover Women Really Deserve Our Sympathy?” “Eight Moves to Escape the Leftover Women Trap.” And then there’s the article, published on – of all days – International Womens Day, which accuses single, independent women of having poor morals:
“Many highly educated ‘leftover women” are very progressive in their thinking and enjoy going to nightclubs to search for a one-night-stand, or they become the mistress of a high official or rich man. It is only when they have lost their youth and are kicked out by the man that they decide to search for a life partner.”
Is a smear campaign, designed to demean China’s most independent-minded women into marriage, the government’s answer to China’s staggering sex-ratio imbalance? Leta Hong Fincher thinks so. “What better way to upgrade population quality than to frighten ‘high-quality’ women into marrying and having a child for the good of the nation?” The chauvinist campaigns don’t stop at marriage. Post-nuptial relationship advice is also given. “When you find out 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 him ‘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.”
A Foreign Affair, a.k.a. www.loveme.com, is planning to capitalize on the sudden availability of China’s best natural resource. The Phoenix, Arizona-based international marriage agency organizes group singles excursions, called ‘romance tours,” where love-hungry American men travel abroad to satisfy their appetites for exotic wives. AFA has established offices in Shenzhen and Chonqing, with possible expansion cities in development. “The whole concept of international romance tours has been around for almost twenty years,” says CEO John Adams. “What started in Russia, Ukraine and the Philippines in the mid 1990’s, has now expanded to China, Thailand and Latin America. Thousands of American men travel abroad to meet future wives every year.” Adams says the appeal of his China tours started out a bit slow but has started to catch on in the past year. “Our last tour to Shenzhen, for example, had 30 guys traveling with us.”
Why are so many American men looking overseas for wives? And do the women rejected by their Chinese counterparts hold the qualities American men are willing to spend thousands of dollars and travel half way around the world to find? Although the success of international marriage agencies like A Foreign Affair have been 20 years in the making, more and more singles are using the technology available to them to find love. American men complain of a lack of available, attractive women over age 30 who are interested in marriage. “I’ve used several local dating sites,” says Michael, a retired college professor from Detroit, “but few of the ladies I found attractive were even remotely interested in marriage. A lot of desirable women over 40 are looking for casual relationships with younger men. I’m a little too old for clubs and bars and I’ve always been fascinated by Chinese culture, so I figured why not take a singles vacation and see what happens.”
Cities like Shanghai, popular among expatriates and tourists, are seeing record numbers of women applying to agencies in hopes of finding a foreign husband. Unlike Latin or European women, Chinese women often pay fees to submit their profile. “It’s also fair to say,” says Adams, “that Chinese women are looking for men who are somewhat educated, professional and financially stable as they are. They believe such American men will be less insecure and more supportive of their values.” The stereotypical desperate loner who travels to Asia to meet simple, unsophisticated girls need not apply. Chinese ladies bring it all and have above average expectations.
But are Chinese women marrying American men merely exchanging one harsh stigma for another? For years, tabloid media reports have accused opportunistic “mail-order-brides” of making their way to America on the backs of American men, only to then dodge their husbands for the precarious life of an illegal immigrant on the lam. There’s virtually no evidence any such trend, in fact, AFA claims most international couples go on to be very happy. How, then, will the cultural misperceptions of international marriage impact Chinese ladies who follow their husbands to a new home? John Adams points out “There are millions of Chinese-Americans and a well developed Chinese subculture in America. There will be plenty of opportunities to make friends, find work and adjust to life in America over time.” Traveling back and forth from the USA to China has never been easier, so family ties needn’t be affected either. And besides, for the fine women of China, this experience is all about the end result: a loving husband and family.”