Lonely Hearts in China


Valentine’s Day has blossomed into an international holiday, much to the delight of the greeting card, flower, and chocolate industries. In China, however, Valentine’s Day will be without romance for many young heterosexual men who face a pronounced gender gap: “By 2020, sociologists expect an ‘extra’ 35 million Chinese men—males for whom there are simply no available female partners. That’s slightly more than the population of Canada.”

When Valentine’s Day does not offer up the promise of romance, many in China have turned to “Singles’ Day,” which falls on November 11 because of the four ones in the date “11/11.” Several years ago, creative marketing departments at online retailers encouraged lonely men to seek solace in retail therapy leading the unofficial holiday to “become the world’s largest online shopping event.” Now men and women are both in on the Singles’ Day cyber-shopping frenzy.

Why the gender gap? The one-child policy (introduced in the late-1970s to curb population growth) has created significant controversy both for the methods used by some government officials to limit births and for the impact on female babies because of the traditional preference for male heirs. For this reason, it is illegal to reveal the sex of a fetus without official permission. Indeed, when I visited China while pregnant, Chinese friends were surprised that my husband and I were keeping the sex a surprise when we, unlike them, could find out ahead of time.

Critics have also raised concerns based on international human rights norms. As reported by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in its 2013 annual report, “Chinese officials continue to actively promote and implement population planning policies which, in both their nature and implementation, violate international standards.

The one-child policy might soon pass into history. Following an important meeting of top Communist Party leaders, plans were announced to relax the policy.  The question is whether the leadership’s steps are too little, too late to avoid a demographic crisis fueled by an increasingly aging population. In addition to creating lonely hearts, the large pool of single young men does not bode well for the Chinese leadership’s push for social stability.

As for young homosexual men looking for romance today in China, despite tenacious cultural taboos, there is an increasingly open LGBT community in China, which plans to continue the annual ShanghaiPRIDE this June. And a small but dedicated group of lawyers, like Zhou Dan, are using the legal system to fight for LGBT rights.

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