Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

“She's leftover because she’s average looking”: powerful film shows what it’s like to be a single woman in China

crying.JPG

Most people, at some point, have had to field an enquiry from a relative about their relationship status. It's a question that can seem innocent, interfering or infuriating - depending on who's asking. But if the answer is "no one, thanks", that's fine. Right?

In the UK, perhaps, but in modern China, many women in their 20s and 30s still face suffocating pressure to marry. Those who remain single into their late 20s are called "sheng nu": literally, "leftover women".

Owing to the country's one-child policy, introduced in 1979, men in China outnumber women by some 33 million. (In traditional Chinese culture, sons were valued more than daughters - meaning that female babies were often aborted or abandoned.) With so many men around, women who are unwilling or unable to find a husband are often regarded with suspicion, and pushed by their families into "settling down". In 2007, the Chinese Ministry of Education attributed women's failure to marry to their "overly high expectations for marriage partners".

But now a powerful short film, produced by cosmetics brand SK-II, has set out to challenge Chinese perceptions of single women. In the video, titled "Marriage Market Takeover", young Chinese women articulate the familial and cultural pressures they face to find a husband.

leftover women

"People think that in Chinese society, an unmarried woman is incomplete." Picture: SK-II

"You become a subject that people talk about, and get so much social pressure," says one woman.

"In Chinese culture, respecting your parents is the most important quality," another explains. "And not getting married is like the biggest sign of disrespect."



In one particularly painful scene, a middle-aged mother says bluntly: "She's just average looking. Not too pretty. That's why she's leftover." Sitting next to her on the sofa, her daughter's eyes fill with tears.

Leftover women

Some Chinese parents place huge pressure on their daughters to marry. Picture: SK-II

The film's name comes from the 'Marriage Market' held each weekend in Shanghai. Every Saturday and Sunday, the parents of unmarried men and women flock to the city's People's Park to browse for partners for their children. Descriptions of young men and women – their income, job title, whether they own a house or a car – are written on pieces of paper, and hung along pieces of string that line the park. "It's like you're selling your daughter," says one woman. 

The video shows a group of young women going to the Marriage Market to deliver a personal message to their parents, and it's not to be missed.

Watch the full film below:

Related

chinese bride.jpg

How marriage pressure is ruining Chinese New Year for many women

ONLINE_ARTICLE.jpg

This is what 30 looks like to women across the world

ThinkstockPhotos-137830497.jpg

“There's a huge social stigma to being overweight”

page_six_main_rt.jpg

This is what 30 looks like: Zinabua Birhanu

12115923_987756764599051_212889004950249068_n.jpg

Photographer captures the many faces of women around the world

hair.jpg

The secret to long, strong and shiny hair from a Chinese village

Samantha Jones Sex And The City 2.jpg

Meet three women happy to be child-free by choice

hijab feminism.jpg

Why I stopped wearing the hijab

ThinkstockPhotos-470518342.jpg

Behold the world's friendliest places to visit

Comments

More

Samantha Baines: “It’s time to leave our vaginas the hell alone”

The Call the Midwife star has her say on vaginal beauty treatments

by Kayleigh Dray
26 May 2017

Ramadan: The best places to break your fast in London

These London restaurants provide late night openings and special iftar menus

26 May 2017

10-year-old survivor’s letter to Ariana Grande is beyond beautiful

“I really hope you’re not too scared”

by Kayleigh Dray
26 May 2017

It’s official: this easy email hack is guaranteed to boost read rates

Make your emails stand out in your recipient's inbox with one simple trick

by Jasmine Andersson
26 May 2017

Fathers pay more attention to daughters than sons, new study shows

Dads are also "more emotionally engaged" with girls

by Anna Brech
26 May 2017

Men are totally devastated by this women-only Wonder Woman screening

Who knew they were such big fans of Diana Prince?

by Moya Crockett
26 May 2017

Dog breaks into studio to help reporter read the news

The internet is obsessed with this live news blooper (and for good reason)

by Kayleigh Dray
26 May 2017

“Get over yourself”: gymnast hits back at stranger who judged her arms

Alexandra Raisman responds to “rude and uncomfortable” incident

by Anna Brech
26 May 2017

Fighting for their rights: the heroic teens battling period taboos

"I wasn’t allowed to comb my hair, look in the mirror, attend school, read and write."

by Sarah Biddlecombe
25 May 2017

Twitter responds to terror threat level the only way it knows how

#BritishThreatLevels showcases the self-deprecating humour we Brits seem to love

by Amy Swales
25 May 2017