BEIJING – Among the many thousands of people passing through Beijing’s international airport were large numbers of Chinese women returning on Wednesday to the capital from business trips.
Many of these single and independent women are changing Chinese society as they decide to defy traditional Chinese social norms which urge them to get married and have kids.
Many refer to these single women who cannot find a husband before reaching their thirties as “leftover women” or “shengnu” in Chinese.
However, more and more women in China choose to ignore this tradition and lead their own lives without marrying a man out of social pressure.
According to the latest official figures, China has faced a downward trend in marriage in recent years. In 2016, around 11.4 million couples got married, 6.7 percent less than the previous year.
“I’m fine with my single life,” said Lily Yan, a 30-year-old single woman whose career path has steadily risen since she moved to Beijing four years ago. Yan is in charge of a well-known restaurant chain in China.
“The hardest thing is the family, but I’ve already reeducated my parents successfully,” Yan said with a laugh, reminiscing about when she tried to justify her decisions to her parents.
Yan added that despite being conservative, her parents are “quite open minded.”
Those who give priority to their profession and their happiness over marriage are often labeled as arrogant, materialistic and selfish, and their decision to not get married is considered one of the worst ways to disrespect their parents.
That is why many single women in China still feel ashamed of disclosing their age and their civil status, but this view has started to change.
Yan recalled that when she left her hometown of Tianjin, her friends warned that she would regret moving to Beijing because finding a husband was more difficult in the capital.
“But I have no regrets, now I’m very far from that (marriage). It sounds too scary for me because you have to give your whole life to one person,” she said.
Making your way through the business world in China, which is still very much dominated by men, has not been easy for a young woman like Yan, who recounted how she has worked with men who were “less respectful” towards young women.
Vivian Shi, a 36-year-old teacher from Beijing, is another example of women defying the social norms of marriage.
Shi said it wasn’t her mission in life to find a husband, and added that “I do not care what society thinks about me.”
Liu Qing, a 35-year-old teacher, thinks similarly and believes that achieving financial independence is the key to not falling into the trap of feeling like a “leftover woman.”
She explained that traditionally, men did not marry women out of love but they did it because they needed someone to take care of their family and continue the family’s lineage.
Women, who traditionally weren’t unemployed, needed someone to financially support them and were urged to give priority to their family rather than their career.
Even some of Liu’s relatives still think that single women cannot live a happy life without a partner.
“They think they have a better life than mine because they’re married, and they’re wrong. I’m happy without a boyfriend,” Liu said.
Yan, Shi and Liu all have had to suffer through the blind dates set up by their parents, in which they were often asked awkward questions like: “How old are you? How much do you earn?” and even “Do you have any property?”
However, they were optimistic on the new generation and believed that society is changing as more and more marriages are rocked by infidelity and end in divorce, proving that marriage is not the ultimate life solution as it was believed to be in the past.