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Heartbreaking Video Lifts Up 'Leftover' Chinese Women Shamed For Being Single

ICE Graveyard 7/04/2016 Alexandra Ma
SKII © SK-II SKII

A viral video campaign wants to change the conversation around the harsh reality of being single in China.

SK-II, a popular Japan-based cosmetics company, released a new video on Wednesday aiming to fight back against the stigma unmarried women face in Chinese society. The video is part of the company's #ChangeDestiny campaign, which aims to empower and inspire women around the world.

In the video, named "Marriage Market Takeover," various single Chinese women discuss the pressure they receive from their families to marry, and the judgement they experience in society for being single.

"In Chinese culture, respecting your parents is the most important quality, and not getting married is like the biggest sign of disrespect," one woman says.

"Maybe I should give up on someone I love for someone who's suitable," another says as she tears up.

Unmarried females in their late 20s and over are often described in Chinese society as sheng nu, or "leftover women."  

In a country where over 90 percent of women get married by the time they're 30, state broadcaster China Central Television claims, sheng nu are heavily stigmatized within smaller family communities as well as by larger social forces. The Chinese Ministry of Education listed the termsheng nu as an official word in its dictionary in 2007.

The All-China Women's Federation, which was founded by the Chinese Communist Party, has put particular blame on educated women for being single. The organization frequently reports and espouses government policies on women.

"Good-looking girls don't need much education -- their looks alone can get them married. Plainer girls have it harder, so they think they can increase their competitiveness by getting higher degrees," a scathing March 2011 column written by the All-China Women's Federation noted.

"The saddest thing is that they don't know that the older the woman, the less valuable she is," the column continued. "By the time they receive their master's or Ph.D.s, they'll already become old, like yellowed pearls."

Another reason why sheng nu have come under attack may be the gender imbalance in China. According to the Sixth National Population Census, which was conducted in November 2010, there were almost 34 million more men than there were women in the country.

By 2020, there will be about 30 million more single men than single women, according to The New York Times. Single men in China are called guang gun, or "bare sticks." Guang gun are normally less stigmatized than women in China, partly because men are traditionally under less pressure to marry early.

Thousands of parents attend "marriage markets," where they display signs with information about their single children, including their age, height and income, for others to scrutinize, in the hopes that they can find suitable matches.

It's like having your parents set up and manage an online dating profile for you, but in person. Many marriage markets and expos exist around China, particularly in large cities like Beijing and Shanghai. And in many cases, parents attend without their child's consent.

"It's like you're selling your daughter," a woman in the video says, referring to the market.

At the end of the video, the women attend the Shanghai Marriage Market, a fair held weekly in the city's People Park. But instead of searching for partners, the women post images of themselves with messages underneath celebrating their singledom and asking their parents to understand their points of view.

"As opposed to the term 'leftover woman,' I have a great career, and there is another term called 'power woman,'" one woman posts.

The posters appear to move the parents, who seem to change their minds.

"'Leftover women' are outstanding," the mother of another woman says at the end. "The 'leftover men' need to try harder!"

Since its Wednesday release, the video has amassed over 1.4 million online views and thousands of comments on Weibo and Douban, two popular Chinese social networking sites. Many users on both sites appear to sympathize with the subjects of the video.

Some commenters said they believed that the video was staged but acknowledged the gloomy truth behind the sheng nu phenomenon.

"The ending of the clip is so fake... If the parents really did start to understand and support their children after seeing the messages on the photo, then we wouldn't be under so much pressure," one user commented on Douban.

Many others were inspired.

"What's wrong with being a 'leftover woman'? The term is synonymous for independence, confidence and excellence," Weibo user Tang Shuzhe posted in response to the video. "While SK-II's ad certainly touched on the pains of a lot of modern women, more and more understand this: You are in charge of your own life, and you shouldn't let others' views and pressure change your future."

"This was so touching. Whether or not this was marketing [for SK-II], I hope there are more and more ads like this," another user wrote on Douban. "Our social climate would change a little too!"

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