China’s Leftover Women: A Case Study

Independent. Intelligent. Successful. Believe it or not, in China and several other Asian countries, these are all qualities that drive men away from women, rather than attract them. I became interested in the topic of ‘Sheng Nu,’ Leftover Women, when I was studying abroad in Shanghai last Spring semester.  In my course titled “Social Issues in Contemporary China,” we focused on several major topics which are constantly being discussed in the large-scale global conversation.  The phenomenon of ‘leftover women’ in China was presented to us in class one day toward the end of the semester, and unfortunately, my professor only briefly defined its meaning and failed to go into any detail regarding this fascinating topic.  After doing some of my own preliminary research on the phenomenon of leftover women in China, I am excited to continue this research and create a case study of this social stigma.

Tentative Thesis:   Yes, it is true that there are an increasing number of young women in China who are not receiving marriage proposals due to their independence as successful businesswomen, and men are intimidated by this phenomenon.  Though this is initially seen in a negative light, are the women perhaps better off unmarried, maintaining their independence and freedom from matrimonial commitments and obligations?

Theory: When we initially proposed case study topics in class several months ago, Dr. Collins and some fellow classmates suggested that I consider using theorists such as Marx, Williams, Gramsci, Benjamin, and Barthes.  I may also use Appadurai and connect the construction of the proper, attractive, desirable Chinese woman to Appadurai’s concept of fetishism as a consumer and how the female is, in a sense, a commodity that has been transformed into something to be used at the male’s disposal. Further, Appadurai does not believe that one nation, in this case, the nation of men, affect all others.  I could possibly tie in his belief of the flows of technology, ideas, information, images, all of which influence the way women are regarded in society.   I will probably use Marx in defining a hegemonic bloc that has men, and males in general, at the top as the controlling force, for it is they who view these women as “undesirable.”  His usage of the base and superstructure is applicable to my topic.  I could use William’s argument that culture is where the fights occur to support my argument of leftover women being treated and viewed as anything but human.  Gramsci could also be applied to my topic with his belief in the ability for the creation of a counter hegemony, and I could also connect leftover women to Gramsci’s war of position.  Walter Benjamin’s theory that focuses on the ‘aura’ of something, could be applied to my topic, as well.  I will try to extract the “meaning” of what it means to be desirable, and why these successful, independent women give off the aura of intimidation and unworthiness.  Through interpellation, men have created this stigma and attached it to certain women by means of categorization and rating.  In the amount of research done so far, I have found that there is a distinct discourse for and about this topic of leftover women in China and several other Asian countries.  “Discourse refers to the systems of representation that have developed socially in order to make, organize, and circulate a coherent set of meanings about social world” – John Fiske.  In addition to the global society’s reaction and subsequent discourse of this phenomenon, in Chinese culture, men have also created a kind of discourse revolving around women and their degree of ‘appropriateness’ and desirable qualities that make them either marriage material or not.  Though I still struggle to fully grasp Roland Barthes theory of myth, I will attempt to connect it to my topic and maybe, just maybe, I will include Barthes in my case study paper.  What is the myth surrounding a woman, more specifically, a Chinese woman who is attractive to a Chinese man?  How is the leftover woman, the successful and independent woman being transformed into something that is widely acceptable for the dominant culture in China?  Is her ‘myth’ being changed for better or worse?  These are all things that I plan on analyzing and possibly using to support my case study.

Found while doing more research:  Interesting personal story of a woman feeling the pressure from her parents, friends, family, and Chinese culture as a whole to get married…


Potential and Useful Sources:

LARSON, CHRISTINA. “The Startling Plight Of China’s Leftover Ladies.” Foreign Policy 193 (2012): 1-6. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

To, Sandy. “Understanding Sheng Nu (‘Leftover Women’): The Phenomenon Of Late Marriage Among Chinese Professional Women.” Symbolic Interaction 36.1 (2013): 1-20. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

FINCHER, LETA HONG. “Women’s Rights At Risk.” Dissent (00123846) 60.2 (2013): 36-40. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply