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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More