Mandarin Chinese is a beautiful language with millennia of history (at least five of them…). And like every language, also Chinese has a repertoire of not-so-beautiful words. One of them is the “剩女” (ShengNü) which best translates into “leftover woman”. In mainland China, it refers to women around the age of 30 and still not getting married and giving birth to children (using the plural ‘children’ is increasingly appropriate in the mainland Chinese context, see). Apart from higher standards that women in contemporary China seem to have developed when it comes to finding Mr. Right, the main reason for the phenomenon is that the average ShengNü is too well educated, having obtained Bachelor-, Master-, or, God forbid, PhD degrees. A Chinese friend of mine (female, 26 years old) explained to me that the latter is pretty much a guarantee to stay single: few Chinese men would want to marry women who are better educated than they are themselves. And despite a certain inflation of higher education, there are still relatively few Chinese men (or women) with a PhD compared to the overall population. So finding love – or at least a partner – is a simple mathematical calculation. One can take measures to increase the chances.

This may sound to many Europeans, whose culture has been influenced by feminist movements for the past three to four decades, rather cynical. However, it is dealt with quite seriously. According to a Chinese version of Wikipedia, the term ShengNü has been officially introduced into the Chinese vocabulary by the Ministry of Education in the year 2007. Furthermore, the All China Women’s Federation, an institution that is supposed to protect women’s rights, considers the ShengNü to be a potential social problem. On suitable occasions like the International Women’s Day, it campaigns to contain the development:

Pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult. These kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls.

Admittedly, this is a quote from the New York Times and I could not find the original text in Chinese on the website (any help is welcome here!). But when reading the other articles on the website of the All China Women’s Federation, the NYT journalist seems to have done her research.

All best/ 祝好,



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