Last year, a mother’s letter to her daughter went viral on Chinese social media. In it, she explained why she wouldn’t rush her daughter into marriage. “People always say women should try to get married and have children when they are young. Otherwise, they warn, it is very hard to find a spouse when you are too old,” she wrote.
“But dear daughter, I know that those at your age are being pressured into getting married by their parents. To be honest, I also feel a bit anxious. But I won’t give you too much pressure because I believe that the man of your destiny is worth waiting for. I want you to get married because you have found the right one and not because you think it is what is people your age are expected to do.”
Women in China who haven’t found a husband by their late-20s used to be branded as “leftover women” with diminishing chances of success in the dating market. Even though the term has started to be deemed as too derogatory, and thus used less, for older women the pressures to wed are still significant.
The stress surrounding the search for a suitable partner – and the worry that parents endure over their unmarried daughters – is what makes the reality TV show, called My Little One, so popular.
The new series, which debuted on Hunan Satellite TV this month, follows four women – television host Wu Xin, 36; actress Yuan Shanshan, 31; former gymnast He Wenna, 29; and swimmer Fu Yuanhui, 22 – in their bid to find partners.
Meanwhile, their fathers sit back in the studio, providing commentary on the footage.
Female viewers said the series had struck a chord with them. Take Wu, whose on-screen persona as a TV host is both confident and glamorous. However, My Little One depicts her personal life as a mess, both figuratively and literally. Her apartment is disorganised and untidy. And even when she has nowhere to go, Wu puts on a whole face of make-up, including one sequence in which she stays at home for a footbath in her living room.
Wu, the oldest woman on the show, admits that she has only dated “weird” men in the past because she is very passive when it comes to finding a partner. Men tend to find her intimidating, while working as the host of China’s most popular variety show – Happy Camp – comes with a lot of pressure too.
“I believe it is only when my career is better I will find someone better. I mean, at this age, I don’t like anyone who is younger than me, “ she confesses to a friend. “And besides, even if I find a man now, and I get pregnant, I won’t be able to work for at least a year and a half. And after that, can I still come back to this job?”
“Whenever I stand next to a 20-something and she calls me auntie, I just have so much anxiety,” she adds.
The two athletes on the show also talk about why it is so hard for them to date. Fu, a swimmer, spends all her time and energy on training. “When I meet people from [outside the sport] who are around my age, their lifestyles are so different from mine. And likewise, the things they encounter, I have never experienced. So I grow up in an isolated environment. I’m usually alone,” she tells the camera.
The stories may not be wholly representative but they are part of a bigger picture in which millions of women are delaying marriage, often to focus on furthering their careers.
“There are many young outstanding women today that face more challenges in finding love than ordinary people,” says Entertainment Industry, an showbiz blog. “On the one hand, they spend so much of their marriage-appropriate age cultivating their career, which means they have little time to date. But by the time they are ready to settle down, it is hard to find a partner because they are deemed too old. And besides, these women have very high standards, both materially and spiritually, and they are not willing to settle for anything less.”
Nonetheless, the fathers on the show, like many parents around the country, concur that a woman’s life is not complete until she finds a husband and starts a family of her own. “My daughter has talked about not wanting to find a boyfriend,” Yuan’s father says in an interview. “But I say, you have to start a family. You think it is fine to be alone now but once you are older, you will regret it. So I strongly reject her idea [of not finding a boyfriend].”
All four women admit that it is difficult to talk openly to their parents about the topic because they have a tendency to worry too much or to nag them to settle down.
But as the show progresses, it is also apparent that the fathers are warming to the idea of their daughters being successful, independent (and perhaps unmarried) women.
Some of the audience, too, said that it had learned more about the perspective of its own parents after watching the show.
“Through My Little One, we can see that there is a huge gap between the two generations in terms of their views of marriage and love. We need to understand each other more and enhance our communication better,” commented Entertainment Industry.
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