View all announcements In imperial China the family was seen as the building block of a stable society. Every individual knew their place and fulfilled their role. Marriage was a pragmatic agreement reached between two sets of parents to ensure heirs for the groom's family.
In the Mao Zedong era after , work-unit bosses often arranged pairings instead. That youngsters may choose their own life partner is a relatively new notion, so China's dating culture is still in its infancy. The generation born after , when the one-child policy was introduced, are fishing for mates in a pool that has changed dramatically. On the one hand mass migration means people now rarely marry fellow villagers or workmates.
The demographic consequences of population controls have had a dramatic effect too. In the late s, China's ancient cultural preference for males was bolstered by new and soon ubiquitous ultrasound technology which led to millions of baby girls being killed, abandoned or aborted: China now has one of the most imbalanced sex ratios in the world with about boys for every girls.
The vast majority of these surplus men live in impoverished rural areas tending family farms female villagers were free to migrate in search of better jobs and husbands.
They have no hope of ever affording the mortgage-free apartment and car which a man is now expected to bring to a marriage. The result is that, by , China will be home to an estimated 30 million million men known as guang gun or "bare branches", who will never marry or produce "offshoots" of their own. That is a big change in a culture where until recently marriage was near universal.
On the other side of the demographic equation is a smaller, equally new group that has received rather less attention: These girls were lucky in many ways, and given opportunities that would once have been reserved for their brothers. They were pushed to study, succeed and achieve as only boys had done before them. The demographic pressures of the one-child society have actually increased the obligations on both sexes, even though they were born into a freer, more prosperous world than that of their parents.
Families pin all hopes of their future livelihood on single daughters just as they do on their sons. Since China has no adequate welfare system, parents rely on adult children to care for them in their old age. Daughters, like sons, are expected to perform the ultimate act of filial piety and produce an heir. When it comes to the marriage market, women are often expected to forget their own desires and honour those of their parents and prospective husbands, even with the financial and academic heft that they now wield.
In rural areas, women may be considered leftover at 25; in larger cities it kicks in closer to June is fast approaching her expiration date.
Parents of adult children in many countries wish to see their offspring happily paired off and procreating but in China this ambition is something of a crusade. For older generations of Chinese, adulthood and marriage are essentially synonymous. Professional accomplishments are considered almost irrelevant if an individual remains unmarried and childless the two usually go together since having a baby outside wedlock is illegal in most provinces.
Financial compromises The desire to marry off a child is a source of perpetual angst for parents. Relatives talk about it constantly; neighbours relentlessly enquire. Many young Chinese say their parents grill them about potential mates almost every day. Some, such as June's mother, set them up on endless blind dates. A few threaten disinheritance or even rush their children into a precipitous marriage because they believe it better to divorce than not to marry at all.
Small wonder that there is a growing niche in renting boyfriends or girlfriends to take home for family celebrations. Chinese state media campaigns also contribute to the pressure many women feel to wed, says Leta Hong Fincher, author of a book on leftover women. Such efforts may lead single women to turn down promotions to focus on finding a mate.
Married women may make excessive financial compromises when it comes to purchasing a marital home or even stay in an abusive marriage, rather than risk being leftover, argues Hong Fincher. Bloomberg Unsurprisingly, the rising generation of self-reliant, poised, successful women does not always comply with its social obligations.
Following a shift that has already occurred across most of the developed world, over the past 30 years women in China have been marrying later. A rapidly growing share never does so at all: Unlike the impoverished "bare branches", these women are concentrated in China's most important cities, with Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen topping the charts.
And society does not approve. Given the gender imbalance, June should have her pick of mates. But things haven't turned out that way, not just because the pool of men with equivalent education is relatively small. Culture, not just demographics, plays a big part in the search for a mate — and many traditional sensibilities persist.
Like her, he's ambitious, well educated, has a good corporate job and speaks excellent English. At work he is surrounded by high-achieving, single women but, though he enjoys their company, he's not interested in marrying an educational or professional equal. In fact, he's already engaged. I like her because she's easy to manage. Finding a man who was better educated than his potential wife was less challenging in the days when girls were barely schooled past early adolescence.
In the past 20 years, investment in higher education has increased dramatically; nearly 90 per cent of high-school graduates now attend university and women represent more than half of this cohort.
The downside to this rapid advancement of female education is the emergence of a dangerous paradox. The higher their degree, the less likely women are to marry: Again, the vocabulary is telling: Blind dates When it comes to the marriage market, women are often expected to forget their own desires and honour those of their parents and prospective husbands.
AAP June's mother is well aware that the qualities that make her daughter appealing to prospective employers are intimidating to prospective mates, so she is trying to render her more wifely in the eyes of suitors. Far from being a histrionic, modern-day Mrs Bennett, June's mum is a practical dating coach.
As a young girl June didn't realise that her educational pursuits would affect her romantic prospects. She grew up with few examples of what dating should look like. After so many years of relationships being brokered, the mores and manners of modern courtship in China are still being established. As most people date with the purpose of finding a marriage partner, relationship culture is stifled because too many people have a stake in the outcome.
Most of the blind dates June goes on are completely devoid of romance. There's lots of nodding and absolutely no touching. A group of demographers from Barcelona, who gathered data for 56 countries spanning a period from to , found that in the early period of their study it was more common for women to marry "up".
But by trends had changed drastically: Paternalistic China is a flagrant exception to this trend. It is a sign of female empowerment that some women now remain single, either because they do not wish to wed or because they have not found someone they like enough.
For the first time in China's history a large number of women has the money and status to forgo marriage willingly. Yet accomplished women such as June who do wish to find a partner often face an apparently insurmountable wall of conservative values.
AP In an effort to make the men they are dating feel honoured and respected, educated women often find themselves playing down their smarts. June says she switches between two distinct modes, Chinese girl or overseas returnee with an Ivy League degree. Her friends tell her that is not enough: Sajiao involves pouting, mewling and the stomping of feet. That doesn't sound attractive. Yet in a rapidly changing social and economic environment, it has become a critical skill for maintaining a sense of continuity and order in gender relations by helping a Chinese man feel loved, honoured, chivalrous and, above all, manly.
By playing up to the male ego, she accomplishes the near-impossible: So why, given the reversed demographic equation, are Chinese women still "playing along"? Professor Hu Deng, who teaches emotional psychology at the prestigious Renmin University in Beijing, considers himself an expert in romantic relationships. Compared with most professors, he is quite progressive in both subject matter and views.
He speaks uninhibitedly in class about the transactional marriages of revolutionary China and warns students that mates chosen by parents or grandparents rarely lead to true love. When it comes to the art of the sajiao, however, the professor is more conservative. In the current competitive environment, the pressures on Chinese men are great.
The skewed sex ratio means they must show to prospective mates that they are excelling. Although wealth and opportunities have risen overall, for many people jobs and livelihoods are more unstable today than they were a generation ago. And in a lot of cities property prices have risen faster than wages. In Beijing and Shanghai buying a home may involve spending more than 20 times the average annual wage.
At a time when many men have been left floundering and feeling inadequate, a woman who can step in and artfully make a man feel esteemed, needed and admired may help compensate for the lack of such feelings in the wider world of work or society, says Hu.
So, he reckons, behaviour such as the strategically executed temper tantrum has become a "fix" for other flaws, perceived injustices and inequalities in the Chinese social system. The Chinese Communist Party has, if anything, promoted the revival of traditional values, compelling educated women to make men feel manly by behaving like children. It takes a conservative view that the family is a stabilising force in a time of rapid economic change.
So, in contrast to other countries where investment in higher education has often been accompanied by greater individual freedoms and a questioning of prevailing attitudes, in China a complex mix of politics, philosophy and economics has left accomplished women like June play-acting to find a spouse. Chinese women have been an integral part of the formal economy for far longer than many of their Western counterparts. Fairfax Media Despite her worldly outlook, June seems convinced of the need to perform.
The problem is that, even after watching an online tutorial for how to sajiao your way to dinner at your favourite restaurant, she simply cannot master the art of feigning subservience. Useless and completely lost Given the centrality of marriage in China, there are plenty of services to help women improve their dating skills. Sajiao isn't going to get June anywhere, but a seduction master class with one of Beijing's most beguiling sirens sounds more promising.
Ivy is her guide. Though only 27, Ivy gives the impression of a life already well lived. A Cartier watch encircles Ivy's wrist, a Dior bag dangles from her forearm, Chanel earrings illuminate her ears, a cashmere Burberry coat is cinched around her waist and Louis Vuitton patent shoes with small golden bows adorn her feet.
She is a veritable pageant of luxury branding, and yet somehow — shockingly — it's all been put together rather tastefully.