Today, Chinese women face immense pressure to get married before they turn 27. In many Chinese cities, so called marriage markets where parents go to post and match personal ads are a common sight. An emotional advertisement about “leftover women” in China recently went viral, uncovering not only the society’s deep-rooted discrimination against single women, but also the Chinese government’s inaction regarding gender inequity issues.
The four-minute-long document-style video from Japanese cosmetic company SK-II’s global campaign aims to inspire women to change their destiny. The campaign has resonated with many unwed Chinese women older than the age of 27, as it brings out their fear of being stigmatized as “sheng nu” or “leftover women.” In China, women are conventionally viewed as having an incomplete life if they remain unwed and are pressured into marrying in their 20s.
“The campaign really is to inspire women to overcome their limitations, to make their own destiny,” said Markus Strobel, global president for SK-II, which is owned by Procter & Gamble Co.
Since being posted on the brand’s blog on April 7, the video has received nearly 5,000 likes and been shared more than 25,000 times. Altogether, the video has been viewed nearly 10 million times globally on all platforms, garnering more than 3.9 million comments, likes, shares, and reposts, Strobel said.
The issue of unmarried females has long been a topic of concern in a society that prioritizes marriage and motherhood for women. Accompanied by English captions, the video introduces us to the lives of China’s leftover women that sees heartfelt testimony from the women themselves, with some breaking down when talking about the difficulties they face being single.
“You’re not a kid anymore. Find someone to marry. I won’t die in peace until you’re married. Don’t be so free-willed. She’s stubborn. You’re too picky.”
“We always thought our daughter had a great personality. She’s just average looking. Not too pretty. That’s why she’s leftover.”
As the ad progresses, the video focuses on a woman who shares her experience. She explains that the Chinese New Year is particularly “the most stressful time.”
“Everyone will be asking you—how old are you? Why are you not married? You’re no longer young.”
“In Chinese culture, respecting your parents is the most important quality. And not getting married is like the biggest sign of disrespect,” shared another woman, who later broke down in tears. Another woman said: “People think that in Chinese society, an unmarried woman is incomplete.”
“Maybe I am being selfish,” this young woman says, before she breaks into tears.
China’s ruling Communist Party tries to urge single women to marry to offset a huge gender imbalance caused by the recently ended one-child policy. But according to Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China.” Single Chinese women are at “a real turning point” and many are beginning to embrace a single lifestyle and push back the stigma.
“These are young women with strength and confidence, who are being specifically targeted by the state’s deliberate campaign to pressure [them] into marrying. Chinese women today are more educated than ever before and they are increasingly resisting marriage. This is the reality and it was told in a very creative, moving and empowering way: that these women are leading great lives in many ways, in being single. But the torture experienced by the women in holding out against intense marriage pressure is also extremely real. It reflects the reality of so many young women professionals in China,” she said.
China’s decades-old one-child policy distorted the country’s gender balance. According to Jiang Quanbao, a professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University’s institute for population and development studies, Chinese men had outnumbered women by 36 million in the past three decades before 2010, as an estimated population of 20 million baby girls had likely been aborted. So, in theory, China should have few worries about so-called “leftover women.” On the contrary, “leftover men,” also known as “bare branches,” should be a bigger concern, as it is estimated that at least 24 million Chinese men will be left with no local women to marry in 2020.
A number of brave Chinese women have finally stood up to speak their mind against society’s labels and their parents’ pressures. A marriage market in Shanghai’s People’s Park was taken over by personal messages from hundreds of independent women, declaring that they want to control their own destinies. These markets are usually a place for parents to leave posters listing the details of their unmarried children, in the hopes of finding a match. However, in this case, the parents were shown posters of their daughters, with positive messages for their parents. In one poster, a woman tells her parents: “I don’t want to get married just for the sake of marriage. I won’t be happy that way.” “I am opposed to the term ‘leftover woman,” says another, with her mother adding: “The ‘leftover men’ need to try harder.”
“I want to take the time to find the right person,” one reads, sparking tears from her mother, who cries, “I will always support you.”
Perhaps the parting message from one of the single women in the video sums it up best. “I’m confident. I’m independent. I love life. I’m a pretty outstanding woman.”