April 13, 2022
BEIJING – My friend Dolly is getting married in April. But if COVID-19 numbers continue to climb, there is the chance the wedding may have to be postponed. The gregarious Dolly is unworried. By Chinese law, she is already considered “married” having secured a matrimonial certificate from the Civil Affairs Bureau. In fact, she speaks of her boyfriend to her friends as “my husband”.The wedding is just a formality for family and loved ones to celebrate their special day.
In today’s Chinese society, Dolly, a website editor, appears to be a diminishing breed. Surveys and oft-told anecdotes are echoing how more and more Chinese women are saying wo bu yao (I don’t want) to marriage. In a society that has remained family-oriented to its core and where the State would like its population of 1.41 billion (according to the seventh national population census) to rebound, women shying away from marriage is not the way to go.
A recent survey of 2,905 women (aged 18 to 26) by China’s Communist Youth League showed an emerging profile of today’s urban women. It showed 44 percent of female respondents did not intend to get married citing reasons such as-“not having the time or energy to get married”; “difficult to find the right person”; “financial cost of marriage”; “economic burden of having children”; “they did not believe in marriage”; and “they had never been in love”.
I do not glimpse my friend’s essence in this survey. Dolly holds a good-paying job and appears to be financially independent. She and her man have purchased a condo and, with their joint resources, are building their starter home, one appliance at a time. “Never been in love?” She’s head over heels. This young woman who decided her free-spirited ways are behind her, is simply ready to settle down.
On the other hand, there’s marriage-averse Lily. Her story seems to reflect the Communist Youth League survey. She feared getting married would cramp her lifestyle as a world traveler. Japan was her last vacation in 2019 before COVID-19 hit. She would like to visit Eastern Europe next. Independence and freedom are important to her. Being married, raising a family and caring for a child, not so much. The thought of possibly living with in-laws scares her more than flying the accident-prone Airbus 320. She worries she and her husband may not be able to afford the cost of raising a well-educated child. She admits to constant family pressure asking if she has a boyfriend. She has learned to laugh it off.
See, Dolly and Lily are of the same age-in their late 20s-but have opposite ways of thinking. One is ready to camp down with a husband, bear his child or children, raise a family and grow old together. The other, who holds an equally fulfilling career, prefers to be unmoored and constantly on the move. Two different women pursue divergent pathways. One is not better than the other.
The outlook calling for greater independence seems to resonate more and more with millennial urban Chinese women. Finances appear to be the biggest deterrent. The women would rather spend their savings on pursuits that give them joy, such as going back to school to get an advanced degree, opening a business, doing volunteer work, or traveling.
There is something to be said about some Chinese women departing from their mothers’ journey a generation ago and instead attempting to carve their own separate identities.