Wednesday, 13 June 2012

China’s Well of Loneliness


Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young, and a Chinese woman, was very heaven.  It’s not so hot, though, if you are male.  The girls in China are in a sellers market, with plenty of boys only too anxious to buy…if they can afford the price of entry.  The sad truth is that there are boys being born today in China who will never marry, who will never find the right girl, because there are simply not enough girls to go around.

For over twenty years the Chinese authorities have operated a one child policy as a way of controlling a burgeoning population.  When this is combined with a traditional preference for male children, thus ensuring the preservation of the family name, a preference that has seen the widespread abortion of female foetuses, a major demographic imbalance has resulted.  The sad irony is that family names will die out anyway in the absence of wives for only sons.

The shortage of women is bad enough.  What makes it worse is the ‘reverse dowry’ system that operates across much of rural China.  Bachelors are generally expected to have a minimum of 80 thousand Yuan (about $12000) to allow them to set up a home with their prospective wives.  In peasant communities few men can ever hope to command such personal wealth.  Inevitably this will draw more and more people towards the cities, there creating even greater social problems.

On the latest projections demographers estimate that there will be a surplus of 50 million men by the end of the present decade alone.  This will mean millions of lives unshared.  In the absence of the forms of social stability brought about by marriage crime and disorder are likely to increase to unprecedented levels. 

Commenting on this Li Jianmin, the head of the Institute of Population and Development Research at Nankai University, said that “The gender imbalance trend started showing in the early 1980s, and now we have just walked over the threshold.  In five to ten years, the high risk period will come.”  Andrea Den Bores, a demographer, also warned of the long-term implications of China’s new population crisis in her book Bare Bones:

It is difficult to be optimistic because while the China knows that this problem exists, it does not appear to have any plan.  There is a strong potential building for future violence and unrest and so far the Chinese authorities have not developed a response to these issues other than violent ones. 

Thomas Malthus, the gloomy prophet of population Armageddon, continues to be relevant, though not in ways that he had anticipated.  In his classic An Essay on the Principle of Population he talks of the unhappy people who, in the great lottery of life, have drawn a blank.  Many Chinese men are looking into a future that is no more than a deep well of loneliness.    Nature is finely balanced.  We interfere with its mechanisms at huge peril. 

28 comments:

  1. Confucius would have had something to say about this; unfortunately, Mao purged him.

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    1. @Bob Mack,
      Confucius said: only fluncky ("little men" if translate literally) and women are hard to suppport. It might be hard to get his idea exactly based on this english translation because Confucius was so fond of playing with "implication", but he did put women together with "little men", so every Chinese know what he mean. I must say, Confucius was one of champions who put down women, probably only second to that "peace fighter" Gandhi.

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  2. There's always polyandry. Or a nuclear exchange with Russia. Or non-Han brides . . . anyone like the prospect of 50 million horny Han invading Aceh?

    I know 3 US families who adopted unwanted Chinese baby girls in the last decade. I know half a dozen Japanese girls who married US male - because they refused to live under the cultural conditions imposed on them by their native society.

    It will be interesting to see how this works out.

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    1. It certainly will, Calvin. 50 million horny Han - what a thought!

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  3. Start a war, thin them out a bit.

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    1. Anthony, they had wars and purges and massacres aplenty last century. It didn't help much. Besides that would do nothing to improve sexual ratios!

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    2. Not sure about that one Ana. It might. How many Germans died in WW2 and what percentage were male? Ditto, Russia? Ditto, most wars in history?

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    3. Lots, Nobby, but lots of women were killed also, though I have no exact figures to hand. The thing is nature always manages to make good discrepancies. The problem comes with long-term human manipulation of its processes.

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  4. There are, of course, plenty of women in China's neighbours!

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    1. Correct. Women outnumber men in Thailand by, I hear, some 4-1

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    2. Ah, Michael, thereby hangs another tale. :-))

      anatheimp.blogspot.com/2011/02/heil-big-brother.html

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    3. The poorer, more vulnerable women in those neighboring countries (and in China) are in danger of being kidnapped to be brides or to be sold into prostitution against their will; quite a few reports of that are coming out, including from people who escaped their captors. One can call the environment a "sellers market" for girls, but are all the girls making their own choices? If it isn't kidnapping, then it's often choices made for them by their families.

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    4. HK, in many cases yes, though I suspect more in rural than urban areas.

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  5. Will the Revolution morph from red to pink?
    Will Brighton drop down the Peking order?
    :-)

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  6. Self gratification as a last resort or will there be a significant increase in homosexuality?

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    1. Possibly. At the moment there is a lot of kidnapping of children.

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  7. The strange thing is Ana that when walking around any East Coast city - And I have lived in a few of them - you never get the impression that there is a shortage of women. In theory there is but for some unknown reason this does not translate into what you see on the street. Indeed, there are usually hordes of women or girls shopping or doing their thing. Take a look yourself. On the other hand, I did notice that in one of the schools I taught there were a couple of classes where the shortage of girls was fairly obvious; six girls in one class alongside twenty boys. Perhaps the issue is more apparent in more mainland Chinese cities which I have not visited.

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    1. I wonder, Nobby, if the discrepancy is more notable in rural than urban areas?

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    2. Yes, I think this must be it Ana. But I had to mention my experience because it is contrary to what might be expected.

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    3. Yes, of course. I was in Guǎngzhōu a few years ago. I honestly can't remember anything out of the usual but it was only a day trip from Hong Kong, not enough time to form a proper impression. .

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  8. They are probably eating them.

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    1. Oh no, Anthony, they are far too valuable for that!

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  9. "Nature is finely balanced. We interfere with its mechanisms at huge peril. "
    ---very true!
    but, i think in future only those men without money would get alone, and they don't even count as "Chinese". what a pity!

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  10. If you look at nations with large numbers of unmarried men, and nations with serious political problems, they match up very well.

    But I think the problems will be heavily externalised

    A long while back you posted about mongolian neo nazis, and I explained they were angry their potential wives were all buggering off to China.

    Expect to see a lot more of that as "chinese husband" agencies pop up all over the far east and the Steppes. Or indeed, anywhere with racially acceptable (to Chinese norms) and poor stricken enough women for china to be a step up.

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    1. Yes, Trt, you are absolutely right.

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