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Gender Disparity in China: Millions of Women Missing

A Chinese woman with a snowy mountain backdrop.
China Brides Caption logo The historical discrimination of Chinese women has led to their modern disadvantage. | Photo by Askar Ulzhabayev on Unsplash

Male sex-selection has a long tradition in modern Chinese culture. Previous dynasties’ ancient views and customs were vehemently opposed to having female daughters, as their society viewed them as a political detriment and a financial burden at the time.

In Chinese tradition, wealth was the primary motivator for all things, and birthing baby girls was thought to directly hinder a clan’s potential for business and success.

Men were favored in this society for their capacity to cultivate their family’s reputation, transact business, earn inheritance, amass fortune, and create a legacy for their ancestors and descendants. Women’s social functions, on the other hand (usually restricted to housewives and childbearing) were often aligned with the Chinese kinship system, based on region and age.

Girls from lower social backgrounds were often sold as slaves, forced to become concubines, and had less privileges than the regular housewife. They were often seen primarily as sexual artifacts for reproduction, existing solely to satisfy and serve the desires of Chinese men in power. In short, their general independence was severely limited.

This inevitably manifested in a deeply-rooted gender gap in their society favoring men over women.

As a consequence, female infanticide occurrences soared, particularly in ancient China’s rural and provincial areas (and more recently, so did widespread abortion of baby girls due to the convenience of sex determination via ultrasound).

The members of this ancient civilization were polygamous, and had the sexual right to procreate with any number of mistresses or slaves in addition to their own spouses.

Males had far more equality and marital rights than women, while women could only have one partner. Under their constitution, women having extramarital affairs were punishable by beheading.

The oppression and lack of gender equality effectively paved the way for an extreme shortage of Chinese females to manifest in the years after 1979, when Deng Xiaoping (Mao Zedong’s predecessor) introduced social and economic reforms in China.

The most well-known mandate out of all of them was the one-child policy, which was one of the main causes of gender imbalance in China. This inevitably made female populations plummet in a brief period of time as families started preferring boys over girls - typically resulting to infanticide because more of them declined to raise female infants who were up for adoption.

Oftentimes, underreporting of live female births in China has exacerbated the statistical disparity, as many communities that procured women did not disclose the information to authorities due to cultural prejudices that prevail in their nation.

In larger urban areas of modern Chinese society, this tradition has been discarded, however in more remote areas of Chinese provinces, old traditions die hard.

Despite modern mandates enforcing the prohibition of sex-selective abortion in China, some people still hold onto old practices like the one-child policy. Larger cities now have a consistent number of women, but the national gap is still staggering.

A photo of traditional chinese architecture
China Brides Caption logo Ancient cultural views on dating and gender roles have significantly influenced modern Chinese culture. | Photo by Zhu Peng on Pexels

Chinese men now outnumber Chinese women by over thirty million. As a result, this pattern of extreme gender inequality has had a host of unanticipated effects on Chinese people’s dating patterns and attitudes toward marriage and dating.

In specific, modern Chinese men have a difficult time finding a partner. Due to the shortage of women, some of these men find romance too daunting - and some find it impossible.

From the viewpoint of the ordinary Chinese man, their young adult years are a time for schooling and ability refinement, and they seem to concentrate entirely on investing in themselves in order to achieve a wealthier future.

Since many of them prefer working or studying at the age wherein most adolescents begin dating and learning about relationships, they tend to be less sociable. Because of this, many of them lack the necessary social skills for flirting.

As a result, there is an overabundance of sexually-depressed, socially-inept Chinese males who, in addition to having trouble socializing with women, are at a massive disadvantage due to the scarcity of female sexual partners (specifically in the provinces).

Their society even has a name for these lonely men: “guang gun” (which means *“bare branches,” suggesting that they can’t expand their family tree since they can’t marry) or “shengnan”, which means “left-over men.”

According to analysts, this “bride shortage” will render many Chinese males without a wife, a fate they are destined to bear for the rest of their lives - a fate that will drive many to desperate measures.

Photo of a young Chinese man
China Brides Caption logo Dating in China is much more difficult for the vast amount of lonely men. | Photo by Juan Encalada on Unsplash

This sexual alienation, along with high rent, inadequate housing standards, and slave-like hard labor along factor assembly-line jobs has driven many males into a downward spiral of despair, and in some cases, suicide. On rare instances, some people vent their rage on society through vicious, indiscriminate violence (similar to that of American school-shootings).

In recent years, accounts of whole villages enabling the abduction and incarceration of urban Chinese girls for sex, extortion, trafficking, and forced marriage have emerged.

Even females from neighboring Asian countries are often kidnapped and smuggled to China for this reason (fooled through false promises of high-paying job opportunities and a nicer quality of life).

Furthermore, the sex toy industry started to replace China’s missing female demographic, with the popularity of realistic sex dolls booming in recent years (particularly due to the lockdown). This fifteen-billion-dollar industry is thriving, with exports doubling this year.

Women face systemic (and historical) discrimination in Chinese culture, placing them at an extreme disadvantage unless they have been born to a small proportion of the wealthy and influential upper-class. Being conceived into a middle-class household in a larger city may save them from a needless infantile death, but it may also condemn them to a life of injustice in a male-dominated society.

In terms of relationships, women’s attitudes and practices vary by region, but they all convey the same message: to marry into a wealthy family for political and economic advantage (as dictated by their family, or by themselves). This certainly does not extend to all Chinese women (particularly among more modern-thinking women in larger cities), but it is a common trend among them.

For Chinese women who incorporate a new twist on conventional marriage views, there is an intriguing dating dynamic at work. They are aware that they are a rare group, so they are not afraid to reject men who they believe are unworthy.

Dating in China is progressing as well. Kissing and locking hands in public has become increasingly more commonplace among college students as well as other teenage women, as more millennials begin to accept modernity. However, parents continue to have a huge influence on their daughters’ lives and futures.

In conclusion, China’s complicated social background has culminated in a plethora of weird effects (both good and bad) that have shaped their culture and their people’s ways of thinking into what they are now, and continues to progress as modernity continues to persist.


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