Chinese women over the age of 30 can kiss their marriage plans goodbye, since most men consider them too old. Well-educated, successful "leftover women" struggle in a patriarchal society that expects men to be superior.
Successful single women in their late 20s are finding themselves increasingly under pressure as family, friends and the Chinese government expect them to find a partner and get married. And they better hurry: Once they turn 30, they are branded "leftover women" - and chances are they'll never marry at all.
"Many people believe there are various stages of a single woman being 'left over,'" said 28-year-old cartoonist Leo Lee, who worked with a team to create a cartoon about the leftover phenomenon. "The first rank is 26- to 27-year-old women who are called 'leftover fighters,'" he told DW. Then, there's the 32- to 35-year-olds called Bishengke, or 'Pizza Hut women,' who are too busy with work to look for a husband." And ultimately, the over 35-year-olds are considered hopeless 'high-level leftover women.'"
In a country that's slightly tilted toward male domination due to the government's one-child policy and a cultural preference for boys, there's no shortage of men per se.
But both men and women struggle with patriarchal social structures that call for a man to be superior to his wife when it comes to income, education, wealth. Men should be pretty much "higher in a relationship in every sense," commented popular TV match-maker Ni Lin recently.
Constrained by patriarchal structures
According to Sandy To, a scholar with Hong Kong University, "men are still constrained by patriarchal attitudes and ideology which stipulate that men have to adhere to the male superior norm." To, who conducted in-depth interviews with single Chinese women, says men feel intimidated by women who are as successful as they are.
"This leads to a phenomenon in which A-grade men marry B-grade women, B-grade men marry C-grade women and C-grade men marry D-grade women. Only A-grade women and D-grade men can't find partners," TV host Lin said.
One of these A-grade women is interior designer Da Lu, a native of Yunnan province in China's southwest who moved to the Beijing five years ago. Initially she tried hard to find a boyfriend, she said, but it wasn't easy to build a relationship.
"Marriage wasn't really what I wanted," she said. "I just wanted to do something for myself."
But at 42, Lu has her relatives - and society - worried. "The pressure is not just coming from family members, but from everywhere," she said.
In her interviews, scholar To found that most single women do want to get married but are rejected by men because of their accomplishments.
"The government is actually blaming these women for not getting married," she added. Instead of looking at the actual constraints these women are facing, "they think that the women are bringing this condition upon themselves, because they are too picky about the men and because they are too career-oriented to care about marriage."
To said that many women would be willing to turn to Western men instead in the hopes of scoring someone who's "more open-minded" with "less of the patriarchal attitude that very traditional Chinese men have."
Single woman Lu, however, is not especially concerned about finding a husband anytime soon. For now, she's enjoying life and her career to the fullest and says she has enough friends to keep her company. "My friends will help me, just like I will help them when they need me."
In the long run, according to researcher To, the "leftover women" phenomenon will likely vanish. As ever more women become well educated, it will become harder for men to find women they consider inferior.
Primrose Riordan and Rebecca Hume in Beijing and Emma Wallis and Carl Holm in Bonn contributed to this report.