In China, No One Wants a 27-Year-Old Sheng Nu - Female Suicide Rate Increases the Gender Gap

Shanghai at night.
Shanghai at night. | Source

Suicide is the top cause of death for young women in China.

American Women vs. Chinese Women

Despite the laments of one American actress that No one wants a 50-year-old woman, we find that in the USA, many people are interested in the more mature female friend, wife, or partner. This is good news, since women still outnumber men in most Census2010 age cohorts and ongoing head counts.

China, on the other hand, experiences a more disturbing age related phenomenon. Women that are unmarried by the age of 27 are labeled and stigmatized as totally unmarketable as a wife.

This is strictly opposite of the Japanese phenomenon that emerged in the late 1980s, one in which twenty-something and thirty-something professional women began to refuse to date and/or marry. This affected the population numbers to some extent and a side effect appeared as an increasing divorce rate.

In America, men are four times more likely to die by suicide than are women. The opposite is true among young men and women in China; suicide is the leading cause of death for young women in China. (WHO Report of 2009 - Women and Health).

Traditional Solution to a Chinese Woman's Problems

Proverb:

There are three solutions to a woman’s problems:

  • One – to cry;

  • Two – to scream;

  • Three – to hang oneself.

Loose change of society.
Loose change of society. | Source

Leftover Scraps

The stigmatized Chinese women are called Sheng Nu, which translates into English as unwanted or leftovers. A TV miniseries about disenfranchised American women has an even more poignant name that would fit the stigma: Loose Change.

In 2007, the Chinese Ministry of Education included the category Sheng Nu in its glossary of official terms. An associate of mine was teaching English in Beijing at the time and remembers this occurrence.

Ironically, Sheng Nu individuals are largely successful urban women that have lucrative careers and upscale automobiles, and live in good dwellings. The Ministry of Education publishes articles denigrating these women for their single status in a scare campaign. Propaganda implies that no one wants these women (for wives) and their accomplishments are meaningless. Many articles remind the Sheng Nu of the one-child policy and broadcast the message that these women will find a husband "too late" to have a child, or may never find a husband at all.

One of the largest sources of guilt dredged up by Sheng Nu warnings is that the parents of these women will be deeply disappointed - a horrid loss of face for the Sheng Nu. This alone may be a reason for the increasing suicide rate among Chinese women.

Rural Chinese wives are responsible for the crops, the household, and the child raising. Suicidal wives usually drink pesticide.

Throw away toys, throw away people; throw away women in Chinese society.
Throw away toys, throw away people; throw away women in Chinese society. | Source

The Secret Fan of China

The women of Hunan province invented a secret script called “Nüshu” (“women’s writing). The script was carefully guarded from men by women, who passed it from generation to generation through “sworn sisters” and mothers. -- China-Mike.com

Three Levels of Unwanted

In 2010, the results of a Chinese survey of 900+ women university graduates looked at these phenomena. The survey accessed women from 17 Chinese universities and were examined by the School of Journalism at Fudan University.

Over 70% percent of those interviewed in the surveys stated that their Number One Fear was becoming a 3S Lady. Such a woman is in one of three categories among the Sheng Nu:

  1. Ages 24 - 27: Last real chance. The best childbearing years.
  2. Ages 28 - 30: There is still hope for a husband and a child, if you fight hard.
  3. Ages 31 - 35: Almost hopeless. These comprise the "master class" of leftovers.

Matchmakers and Matchmaking Clubs are abundant in China, but management finds that younger Chinese women are almost "too strong." Truly, they are not the little girls and young ladies that suffered foot binding up until the early 20th Century and had secret communications with other ladies in a special language written on folding fans (see Snow Flower and the Secret Fan).

These are not the women that suffered forced enslavement as the first human sushi tables described in FireWife: Nyotaimori Body Sushi, Human Rights and Women's Status.

One woman, aged 26, reported to an interviewer that she might go to America and continue her success. She might then return to China when she was old and broken - at age 40 (reference: Radio Netherlands).

Effects of Foot Binding

FOOT BINDING was officially ended after the Communists took power in 1949. The foot was broken across the arch and 4 toes wrapped under the foot. The smallest feet were the "best" and these women had to be carried, unable to walk.
FOOT BINDING was officially ended after the Communists took power in 1949. The foot was broken across the arch and 4 toes wrapped under the foot. The smallest feet were the "best" and these women had to be carried, unable to walk. | Source

Fudon University in Shanghai, China

A marker220 Handan Rd. Yangpu District, Shanghai -
220号 Handan Rd, Yangpu District, Shanghai, China
[get directions]

Lightning Weddings, Lightning Divorces, Unwanted Children

At the end of 2010, it was found that 20% of all Chinese marriages ended in divorce. The American rate has hovered around 50% or more for several years. However, Beijing experienced a rate of 39%. In the 2000s, one of my associates became a number in that Beijing statistic (information gathered by NPR); she retained a relationship with a wonderful stepson, however.

It seems that the generation in China born after the 1980s are selfish single children under the one-child policy. Many call themselves "Post-80s" and admit to that personality element. They report that they do not compromise, only argue. They marry fast, argue, get a divorce. Divorce clubs offer counseling to the newly divorced.

Elder Divorce

In June 2012, it was found that the divorce rate among parents of children aged 18-19 increased sharply after the results of the national college entrance exams, while the government denied a connection. Popular opinion is that these couples in their 40s and 50s wait until their child may attend college and then divorce.

The one-child policy is not good for future marriages. A Beijing district court found in 2009 that the divorce rate for people under age 30 doubled every year from 2004 - 2009 -- 97% of these people were only children.

In 2011, the divorce rate increased by only 7.3% (Ministry of Civil Affairs report to China Daily). Marriages increased as well, by 4.9% and most couples were ages 20 - 24.

Of the divorcing young couples married long enough to have a child, when they divorce, the child is unwanted by either side in a third of divorces.

Some of the orphanages in China are horror chambers - several potty chairs are lined up together and nailed into place. Lines of potty chairs fill entire rooms at some orphanages.

Older infants and toddlers are dressed only from the waist-up and tied with ropes into the lines of potty chairs to spend 12 hours or more a day sitting. They are fed while sitting on the potty chairs. They fall asleep. They become unruly and are ignored.

Will China destroy its own population with these methods and their unexpected results?

.

Rural Tradition

Marrying a woman is like buying a horse: I can ride you and beat you whenever I like,” -- Xu Rong, head of the Beijing’s Suicide Prevention Project

Rural Chinese wives are responsible for the crops, the household, and the child raising. Suicidal wives usually drink pesticide.

Female Suicide

According to the World Health Organization, Chinese suicide rates are higher among young women than young men and higher also among rural married women who must perform all the work in the home, in the fields, and in child rearing, while husbands work elsewhere.

At least 500 women per day kill themselves in China. Some analysts blame the one-child policy and fear of forced abortions (Note: despite voices that deny forced abortions, I have seen proof from my professors, associates, and friends that have provided documentary coverage and personal experiences of it).

The emphasis on education may also contribute to suicide rates. Many Chinese students attend school equivalent to PreK-12, but all year long for 8 or more hours a day, half-a-day Saturdays, with janitorial and cleaning duties as well. After dinner at home, many attend another school for several hours each night or receive mandated parental tutoring until bedtime. This may contribute to the success of young women, but government publications warm them of the Sheng Nu stigma at the same time.

China has over 20% of the global population, but contributes 25 - 40% of all suicides, depending on the source. The 2010 Human Rights Report on China found suicide rates of women, especially young women, to be 3 - 4 times higher than for men (Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Center).

At the same time, suicide among divorced and widowed Chinese women is lower than for married Chinese women. The urban Sheng Nu experienced a higher suicide rate for some time, but government intervention may be helping -- Since the 1990s, 24/7 Suicide Hotlines have become prevalent in urban areas.

Suicide is still the 4th of 5th Highest Cause of Death among all age groups (depending on source), however, and Number One among young people - more so for women than for men (3:1 or 4:1).

IMPACT

As a direct result of the One Child Policy in China, that nation is projected to have 30,000,000 more men than women by the year 2020, according to a report by China’s State Population and Family Planning Commission.

  • Might female suicide widen this gap further?

  • A Chinese Government crackdown has worked to lessen the number of bride kidnappings in the 2000s and 2010s, as wives became a high demand, low supply property in the rural areas.

  • Some of the Endangered Minorities in China are permitted more than one child.

In early 2016, the Chinese government ended the One Child Policy, because of the economic damage it had done to the people and nation.

DATA From the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Statistics concerning female suicide in China often differ between the official stance and statistics found by agencies.

2012 Official Government Statistics and Explanations:

  1. Suicide is the Number One Killer of all Chinese ages 15 to 34.
  2. Extreme pressure to perform well at school and to find employment explain most of the high suicide rate among youth.
  3. Suicide in rural China is 3x higher than in urban areas and explains 75% of Chinese suicides.
  4. Suicide increased when China's economy boomed in the 2000s.

QUOTE From the US National Institutes of Health

Murad M. Suicide prevention and developing countries. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 2005 October; 98(10): 459–463. Retrieved July 20, 2012 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240102/

In South India, suicide rates amongst young women were reported as 148/100 000, making it one of the highest in the world. The male to female ratio in suicides is also much narrower—in China they are reversed. These studies suggest that, unlike the West where marriage is protective, in many developing countries it is a significant source of stress for women leading to higher psychiatric morbidity and suicidal behaviour.

Factors associated with higher psychiatric morbidity and suicidal behaviour in women in developing countries include early age at marriage, lack of autonomy in choosing male partner (arranged marriage), pressure to have children early in marriage (in many cases for a male offspring), economic dependence on husband and the joint family system. Domestic violence is also a serious problem in developing countries.

Human Rights Remain An Issue In China

Read and join activists groups that work to make a difference.

  • World Human Rights Day
  • Zhang, Jie; Zhou, Liang. Abstract: A case control study of suicides in China with and without mental disorder. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, Vol 30(2), 2009, 68-72. Access at http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cri/30/2/68/

© 2012 Patty Inglish

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Comments 26 comments

vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 4 years ago

It's not like I had a different opinion before, but after reading this hub, all the statistics, and especially the quote by Xu Rong, head of the Beijing’s Suicide Prevention Project - if I was born Chinese, and a woman to spice up the "lovely" life experience - I'd probably commit suicide, too. A brutal thing to say, I know, but honestly, I don't know what else to say about this.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

I agree. It is a totally unacceptable phenomenon. Thanks for posting, vox vocis.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 4 years ago

More and more Chines woman are leaving China. Now I know why! Up interesting and awesome.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

I would have to leave as well! Parts of that huge country hurt a lot of people. Sometimes the government thinks they are helping, as with the one-child policy. The Chinese peoples could be extinct by the year 2100 if trends continue.


MyWebs profile image

MyWebs 4 years ago from Sheridan, WY

This hub shines a light on so many different issues within China that most here in America would find very wrong.

To treat a woman at age 27 -35, who is often highly successful, as damaged goods is ludicrous. I think many women reach their physical prime in their 30's, but they surely have no need to rush to get married and have a child.

The one child policy and foot bindings make about as much sense to me, none. These subjects could easily have their own hubs.

Another well written and researched hub Patty. Up, interesting and shared.


BJC profile image

BJC 4 years ago from Florida

I'm inclined to agree with your comment, Patty Inglish, that by 2100 the Chinese could be extinct. Very interesting hub Patty. The picture of the lady with the effects of the bound foot turned my stomach.

Thanks for keeping us informed.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

MyWebs - Yes, neither makes sense, except in the vein of control. Control applied too strenuously puts the thing controlled out of existence.

BJC - This was the first photo I have seen of an elderly lady after 1949 that had been foot-bound as a child. The last to undergo this torture would be Baby Boomers and probably number in the 1,000s.


homesteadbound profile image

homesteadbound 4 years ago from Texas

This is so sad. Women still have so many rights taken from them all over the world.


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Lord -- that foot binding thing looks horrible. It's terrible to imagine that so many women in China have no hope at all -- and that those are successful in a career are chastised and looked down on. Seems to this old lady the Chinese women need to get together and get on top of that situation -- a furious woman is a furious woman no matter her nationality. (Obviously, I know this is probablty a huge impossibility but would be great if it could happen!) Super Hub as usual. Best/Sis


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

It was horrible. Some of the little girls died while undergoing the foot binding, from infections.

Someone I know is in an Asian history class with a dozen college-aged women from China who are depressed and embarrassed because of poor grades. They will be afraid to go home.


How to - Answers profile image

How to - Answers 4 years ago from Ireland

A very disturbing but fascinating read. It is a terrible situation to be in. The women lose their childhood through studying and then when they become successful and enjoy freedom they are bullied and put down by society and the government.

Shared on Twitter voted up, interesting and awesome


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for sharing the story and getting the word out. How to-Answers. This is an important problem.


jennifer stewart 4 years ago

short and sweet and too the point men are idiot's bye


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

I think that's too simple an explanation.


Kalux profile image

Kalux 4 years ago from Canada

Shocking read. I am always grateful that I am in such a wonderful place, not that everywhere doesn't have it's problems but in comparison I have it made.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

That's the way I feel as well. And I can't deny that I felt extra good when USA won more medals than China in the 2012 Summer Olympics.


Ricksen Winardhi profile image

Ricksen Winardhi 4 years ago from Singapore

I feel sad for the Sheng Nu. The society is demeaning them for something that is not their fault. Something must be done to return their identity and respect, which are basic human rights.

Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

Thank you for your thoughts. I agree.


Southernmapart 3 years ago

Quoted from above inset: "IMPACT As a direct result of the One Child Policy in China, that nation is projected to have 30,000,000 more men than women by the year 2020, according to a report by China’s State Population and Family Planning Commission."

It is my guess that about half this 2020 census estimate will be of soldier-age between 18-42 years; and there are not enough women for wives to make them husbands and fathers. They will only be fit to be soldiers. If so, China can marshal a 15-million-man army.


Michele Travis profile image

Michele Travis 3 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

China seems to be a very sad place to be a woman or a child. A child will have to grow up going to school all day 6 1/2 days per week. And a woman can be successful but no one would want to be with her. Thank you for teaching us how much we have and how much we ignore what we have.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Hi Michele - The school dayt length does not bother me as much as the plight of the women who follow government mandates but are still belittled. There is no way for them to win. Orphanages there that simply tie pants-less babies and toddlers to connected potty chairs with ropes all day are probably the worst of the situations - the children eat, sleep and spend all day tied to potty chairs, without much adult contact.


Michele Travis profile image

Michele Travis 3 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

I am sorry that was the only thing I commented on. You are correct. There is so much more going on, that tortures people in China. What a sad and terrible place to live. My heart breaks for these children. What will they be when the grow up, well if they ever grow up. The way the are living now, they will probably just die.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America Author

Well, it is SO hard to remember all of the problems there, let alone comment on them.


MB 3 years ago

I have just been living in China and some other developing eastern countries and I did notice the stigma there about "age" and the concept that one is "old" at a quite early age. It is considered in China that one's brain is "old" and one is incapable of studying or learning when one has reached their late 20s. I also recall in one of these countries someone referring to a man of 50 as a "very old man". These same attitudes are often carried by eastern people to the West; I often associate with them and hear such attitudes a great deal. It is also considered weird for someone to marry at 30 or above, or for someone to be doing university graduate studies at that age, and it is annoying for eastern people to come to the West and comment in such a stereotyping way here -- why should they expect our culture to become like theirs??? I also noticed though that many people in those countries aged faster and died younger, so that someone who looked in their 50s or 60s turned out to actually be in their 30s, so this might help explain the idea that that age group is "old". While I noticed a stigma against women, I noticed much ageism directed against both genders. Around 100 years ago many of us in the West also aged faster and died younger. In any case, this ageistic stigma in eastern cultures is the total reverse of what many in the West believe to be true. I did not see the aged being revered there since one is "old" at 30 or so and therefore not valued. Westerners are treated a little differently though, but not always. (I also saw elderly people who could hardly stand upright being pushed from their seats on the metro or forced anyway to stand while young men sat down in their place).


haikutwinkle profile image

haikutwinkle 15 months ago

In Japan, unmarried women in her late 20s have many names. They are called 'Christmas cake' (unsold after Christmas), Himono onna (dried fish) and occasionally regarded as 'Parasite Singles' if they still live with their parents.

The way humans label other humans is history repeating itself. A Ferris wheel that will not stop turning even in the here after. A very sad way to judge the world we live in.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 15 months ago from North America Author

@How sad to hear this, haikutwinkle! it is heart wrenching and unfair. Will societies never mature beyond this?

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