Xi Liya, 27, is a hard-working woman with a promising career path. For a woman in her situation, single marital status is increasingly common in modern China.
Even if her parents think otherwise.
Unshakeable conventional wisdom demands that women must marry before the age of 30 or they will become “too old to wed.” At 27, Xi has already reached the age at which society would designate her as a shengnü, or “leftover woman.” The term carries a stigma and deep ramifications for one’s social and family life, as well as work.
“A woman must do what she is supposed to do at her age. If she doesn’t get married before she turns 30, she will be passed over and marriage will remain a big problem for the rest of her life,” Xi’s mother said.
In search of a solution to stave off marital pressure, Xi chose the ultimate deception: hiring a handsome man to pose as her boyfriend when it was time to visit her family and friends.
“My parents want me to get married by 30,” Xi said. “Bringing a ‘boyfriend’ home will mean I get less hassle from my relatives and my parents will stop worrying about my romantic life,” she said.
“Although there’s always a risk they will find out, I just want to get my marital status off their mind,” Xi said.
Marriage rates are on the decline across China.
In the past, marriages were arranged by coworkers or family members. But this phenomenon has vanished with China’s widening birth rate imbalance and and highly educated female workforce. In the big cities, more women are choosing to postpone marriage.
Higher social status makes many Chinese women born after 1980 more eager to establish their own career and gain economic independence. The importance of “getting married” has become less important than finding a good match.
Nevertheless, Chinese parents continue to push their children to marry early. Many have taken to arranging blind dates for their children or matchmaking parties – sources of increasing family conflict.
Hu Xingdou, a social commentator at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the trend of leftover women pushing back against family pressures by hiring boyfriends shows the strong clash between old and new ideas.
Increasing materialism and the pressures of modern life make it harder for young people to find a partner, even as parents still expect their children to marry young, he said.
But it may also reflect another enduring Chinese belief: the importance of being filial. Many people are reluctant to upset their parents by confronting them and would rather feign conformance.
But for women like Xi, what they want most is freedom to break free from the expectations of the society and stave off marital pressures.
“Getting married is not an essential thing I am eager to do in my life. If I don’t feel like it’s the right person and the right time, I would rather stay single,” Xi said.
“But the biggest problem is that I don’t know what to do now. It seems impossible to convince my parents that my generation has a different attitude towards this matter. All I can do is work hard and be a better person. Maybe that can comfort them and make them proud of me,” she said.