News / Asia

Q&A with Leta Hong Fincher: China’s Leftover Women

FILE - Women wearing masks make their way amid the heavy haze in Beijing.
FILE - Women wearing masks make their way amid the heavy haze in Beijing.

Chinese Communist Party founder Mao Zedong famously proclaimed that “women held up half the sky” as he sought a greater role for women socially and to help build industrial power. Women in China did achieve a greater sense of empowerment under Mao than they had enjoyed previously but, in recent years, there is evidence that some aspects of women’s rights in China are eroding.

Former journalist Leta Hong Fincher started researching China’s real estate market in 2010 and quickly saw strongly entrenched gender norms in home buying. As she details in her book, Leftover Women, Hong Fincher told VOA's Jim Stevenson in these excerpts from their conversation that a government program is encouraging women in an indirect manner to voluntarily give up their rights.

Q&A with Leta Hong Fincher: China’s Leftover Women
Q&A with Leta Hong Fincher: China’s Leftover Womeni
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

HONG FINCHER: When I was doing that research, there was a very major legal change that happened in August 2011. The Supreme People’s Court issued a new judicial interpretation of China’s marriage law. Basically, China’s marital property was common, jointly-owned property – each spouse had equal right to the property. But effectively this change said that if your name is not on the marital property deed, then in the event of a divorce, you don’t get the property.

It was extraordinarily controversial, and there were a lot of women in particular who were very upset about it. In my interviews I came across quite a lot of women in their mid-to-late twenties who were highly educated, living in big cities, who would often transfer their life savings over to their boyfriend, to finance the purchase of a very expensive home that would then only be registered in the man’s name.

The more research I did, I realized that this is very common – I came upon the term shengnü, which means “leftover women.” A lot of these women in their mid to late twenties told me that they were very, very anxious to get married, because they’re at that so-called “leftover” age.

STEVENSON: What makes them feel that they’re at a leftover age? Certainly in the West, the age of 27 is not considered to be that old or out of child-bearing age.

HONG FINCHER: No, certainly not. In 2007, the All-China Women’s Federation defined the term shengnü, or leftover women, to mean an urban, educated woman, over the age of 27 who is still single. And China’s Ministry of Education adopted the term as part of its official lexicon.

And ever since 2007, the official Chinese media have been really strongly pushing the term through with their news reports, and with their columns and commentaries, so that by now, seven years later, the term is extremely common.

STEVENSON: There are many successful women in China who have gone on to become company executives, making large salaries, why is it that some women feel like they have to give up their education and their money just to get married?

HONG FINCHER: I argue that the existence of a small number of female billionaires is not really representative of the overall situation of women in China, at all. I argue that in many, many ways, women’s gains of the early communist era have really eroded relative to men. The government is very worried that these educated women are not going to marry at all, and it really wants these women in particular to get married and have a child.

STEVENSON: The one child policy was not uniform across the country, a lot of people were not subjected to that, but it did have enough of an impact where we have seen gender imbalance that has grown in China. If there are so many more men than women, why is it hard for women to find a mate?

HONG FINCHER: That’s really a very ironic thing about this entire campaign targeting so-called “leftover women.” Demographically, there are actually tens of millions of men in China who won’t be able to find brides. And if you look at the large cities, where the most educated people in China are, the sex-ratio imbalance is not necessarily that extreme. The vast majority of homes in China are solely owned by men, and these homes are worth over U.S. $30 trillion, so I argue that Chinese women have really been shut out of what is probably the biggest accumulation of residential property wealth in history.

STEVENSON: What are some of these myths that the government is putting out, and why is some of the government doing this?

HONG FINCHER: There is very widespread sexism in Chinese society. In January 2007 China’s State Council issued a very important population decision. The State Council said that China has a very serious problem with the so-called “low quality” of its population, and that this was going to hurt China’s economic development in the future, that China would not have high enough quality population to compete in the global marketplace. And so the government set a key goal of so-called upgrading population quality, so I argue that this leftover media campaign is closely linked to China’s population planning policy.

There are women who are resisting the widespread sexism, in spite of the difficulties, women are able to find ways to empower themselves individually or by reaching out to other women. Even though my book may seem pessimistic about a lot of facets of Chinese society, I really am very inspired by some of these Chinese women.


Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs