Handbook on the Family and Marriage in China
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Handbook on the Family and Marriage in China

Edited by Xiaowei Zang and Lucy X. Zhao

This Handbook advances research on the family and marriage in China by providing readers with a multidisciplinary and multifaceted coverage of major issues in one single volume. It addresses the major conceptual, theoretical and methodological issues of marriage and family in China and offers critical reflections on both the history and likely progression of the field.
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Chapter 8: China’s ‘leftover women’: myths and realities

Arianne M. Gaetano

Abstract

Chapter 8 studies shengnu (剩女), which is a derogatory label to describe educated, successful, unmarried urban women in their late twenties to forties in China. Public attention to shengnu is conditioned by state regulatory power along with the market-driven media and commercial wedding industry. Shengnu is a discursive construct that simultaneously produces the social phenomenon it purports to describe. It is also indicative of a general malaise and a conservative, patriarchal backlash wrought by recent challenges and changes to institutions of marriage, such as divorce and adultery, and of family, such as the one-child structure and aging population, as well as in gender roles, particularly due to the increasing proportion of women in higher education and white-collar professions. The institutional or/and ideological influences on shengnu include state development policies and programs; the marriage market rules of spouse selection and marital gift exchange; patterns and perceptions of marriage; family structure, gender and intergenerational relations therein, and filial piety; gender role conflict between household and workplace; and reconfigured gender norms. These in turn relate to broader socioeconomic and cultural transformations of post-socialism, including ideologies of neoliberalism, privatization, and individualism; rising incomes and consumerism; urbanization and migration; and increasing social stratification.

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