On Tuesday, February 22, 2022, thousands of Chinese couples registered their marriages. The date is known as “Love Day,” as it contains many twos, connoting pairs, and the Mandarin pronunciation (“er”) is vaguely similar to the word for love (“ai”). Despite the recent surge in marriages on this auspicious day, China’s marriage rate has been rapidly decreasing, helping fuel the larger demographic crisis facing the country. Wary of future economic headwinds and social instability, the CCP has proposed various policies to boost birth rates, including some focused on women’s rights, but they may not be enough to persuade more citizens to tie the knot.
The biggest impediment is simply that many young people do not want to get married. A recent survey of urban youth conducted by the Communist Youth League revealed that 44 percent of women and 25 percent of men say they do not plan to marry, with half of all respondents citing the overly high cost of raising children and getting married. Their preferences reflect wider trends, as official statistics show a 40 percent overall drop in marriages from 2013 to 2020. Last year, provincial statistics showed the trend continuing: in Jiangsu, the marriage rate fell by 5 percent, down for the fifth year in a row, and in Hefei, Anhui, the marriage rate fell by 6.6 percent, down for the seventh year in a row. He Huifeng from the South China Morning Post described evidence of Gen Z women being less interested in marriage and the trend’s economic repercussions:
“‘Live for yourself’ has become a go-to advertising campaign that many brands use to lure female consumers, since a large number of women under the age of 35 only want to please themselves in terms of consumption and lifestyles,” Liu said. “Marriage and childbirth may not make them feel happier, in comparison.
[…] According to a list of the bestselling women’s fiction books in 2021, released by ENData, the top sellers focused on women’s careers and their independent spirit, with sagas depicting strong heroines, rather than traditional romance novels about falling in love.
[…] “For decades, Chinese urban families have been getting rich and accumulating wealth, and because of China’s one-child policy, a large proportion of that wealth is now owned by young urban females,” Shen said. “This has led to an objective fact and trend that half – or a large number of families – stand on the side of young women’s rights, in terms of attitudes toward marriage and childbearing.
“Besides, the number of well-educated and financially independent young women has equalled or even surpassed that of men of the same age. All of these factors will result in the attitudes and values of young women having a huge influence on society, especially on population trends.” [Source]
“Compared to a peak in 2014, the number of marriages in Hefei dropped by 41 per cent last year” https://t.co/vRLioPFhRQ
— Jean Christopher Mittelstaedt (@jcmittelstaedt) February 17, 2022
New marriage-friendly policies are being introduced by authorities in China as part of a campaign to return to traditional family roles – but these policies have been met with a less-than-enthusiastic reception among the country's young womenhttps://t.co/t8IIkKe3ee
— Radio Free Asia (@RadioFreeAsia) January 12, 2022
For those still interested in pairing up, some officials have taken an active role in facilitating marriage. In Luanzhou, Hebei, the local Communist Party boss has set up “matchmaking corners” in the city of 520,000 people and distributed application forms for matchmaking activities. He explained how the system works: “Single youths fill in personal information – such as name, gender, age, job, economic status, family situation, etc – to establish a database for single youths, to better serve them in terms of dating and marriage.” AFP recently described how these CCP-backed matchmaking events help singles mingle in person and online:
More than 100 singles attended a party-backed event in Jinan in China’s eastern province of Shandong. Held in a city park, written profiles of guests detailing ages, fields of work and income were strung up between trees.
A master of ceremonies helped to introduce ice-breaking team games as pop music played in the background.
[…] In Anhui province, local officials have turned to technology to connect young people: they have launched a mini programme in China’s ubiquitous social media platform WeChat.
Registered members can view information like a person’s surname, height, company and income.
[…] This youth branch of the CCP has in recent years taken on a “key role in sponsoring mass matchmaking events” said Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.” [Source]
However, some government marriage policies have backfired. Ji Siqi from the South China Morning Post described the backlash to a recent government proposal to encourage “leftover women” to marry unemployed rural men in Jiangxi:
Yihuang county in Jiangxi province is offering preferential treatment for housing and employment, as well as birth allowances, to women and their partners, according to a report from Shanghai-based media The Paper.
[…] More controversially, authorities are trying to encourage women to marry unemployed men by promising their husbands vocational and entrepreneurship training, business loans and priority for public service positions.
The proposal has been slammed online, with women questioning why it was a problem if they chose not to marry.
“I think I know why the marriage rate and the birth rate keep falling, if they don’t respect women or treat women as human beings, then the extinction of mankind is not far!” said one commenter on social media platform Weibo.
Another said: “Why should a 26-year-old female cadre be told that she is ‘old’ and has to have a baby with unemployed rubbish?” [Source]
These sorts of government proposals have spread to other provinces across the country. On its local CCP website, the Xiangyin county government in Hunan described its plan for “Operation Bed-warming,” which would increase matchmaking services and propaganda discouraging local women from moving away from rural areas. The proposal stated: “Rural women must be educated to love their hometowns, build their hometowns, be encouraged to stay and change their hometowns, to bring down the unbalanced ratio between men and women here.” It echoed a similar proposal made last year by the deputy secretary-general of the Think Tank Development Association in Shanxi, which drew considerable criticism. One netizen commented: “If you want someone to warm your bed, just send for a hot water bottle. It’s not expensive.”
There are about 17M more single men than women between 20s-40s in China right now. Hunan county is trying to fix that by imploring local women to stay and marry as rural bachelor crisis worsens – SupChina https://t.co/17Kbs5MtD7
— Matthew Chitwood (@mmchitwood) October 12, 2021
The CCP has resorted to coercive measures to increase marriage rates, as well. One method has been to make divorce more difficult, notably through the minimum 30-day “cooling off” period mandated by the new Civil Code that went into effect last year. Shortly after its passing, the divorce rate plunged by 70 percent, and one year later it remains much lower nationwide than in previous years. The measure also led to new cases of domestic violence and violence against women. In Fengxian county where the shackled woman was discovered, county court records reveal numerous verdicts denying divorce petitions by women who were victims of human trafficking. One verdict denied its case on the grounds of “maintaining family unity.” The shackled woman was said to have been in three forced marriages before her captivity in Fengxian.
The government has also tied marriage policies to social stability goals, notably by incentivizing intermarriage in Xinjiang through means both coercive and consensual. In 2019, the government doubled the bonus points on the nationwide college entrance exam for children with one Han Chinese parent and halved the number for those whose parents are both ethnic minorities. In a more coercive example, one Uyghur survivor of Xinjiang’s concentration camps told VOA in 2020 that her Uyghur neighbors agreed to marry their daughter to a Han man after a government official demanded their consent; fearing incarceration, the family reluctantly agreed to the marriage. Coercive measures like these fall under what Darren Byler has previously described as an “active pairing of Han men with Uyghur women by state authorities” that make Uyhur women “the sexual target of state institutions”:
[S]ince 2018 there has been a notable rise in articles promoting marriage between Han men and Uyghur women. A recently published marriage guide, “How to win the heart of a Uyghur girl,” assumes that the reader is a Han man looking for a Uyghur woman.
[…] “In an ‘ethnic’ love marriage, involving a third party (i.e. the government) is particularly important.” [The guide’s author] suggests that “coordinating” between these local work units and social security workers will produce “strong backing and support” that cannot be defeated by “religious extremism.”
[…] Many of the state-approved online testimonials of marriages between Han men and Uyghur women seem to follow the trajectory outlined in the guide “How to win the heart of a Uyghur girl.” A Han security worker chooses a Uyghur woman, initiates contact, works with local authorities to convince the families to agree, and the marriage commences with gifts provided by local authorities. In nearly every published wedding narrative, the presence and support of local cadres and the visiting “relatives” is a major feature.
[…] In general, state workers have hidden payment schemes, career advancement opportunities, and methods of coercion that incentivize Han men to follow through with these state-sponsored forms of political “intimacy” — an aspect of colonial rule that is key to establishing a new social order. [Source]
The CCP’s ambitious demographic-related policy options were on full display this weekend during the “Two Sessions” annual legislative and advisory gatherings. Delegates proposed a variety of measures aimed at boosting birth rates and incentivizing marriage. One delegate sought to encourage graduate and doctoral students to get married by providing them with maternity and paternity leave, stipends, flexible graduation dates, and university-based maternity health services. Other policies included abolishing the three-child policy limit altogether. Not all of these proposals will end up being adopted as official policy, but their presence shows how important they are to the CCP elite. Online, however, some are not falling for these initiatives:
“Master’s students can’t even finish writing their thesis, how would they find the time to get married?”#TwoSessions #China #familyplanning https://t.co/nKJVMqJM2n
— RADII (@RadiiChina) March 8, 2022