Guest Column: “Leftover” women in China

Tianhong Zhang

“Leftover” women in China

Tianhong Zhang

Guest Columnist


On March 5, the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education will host an interactive discussion featuring leftover women in China. The center would like to initiate a cross-cultural conversation on gender issues.

If you type in “leftover women” online, you will come across some articles and find out how the media in the United States interprets the phenomenon of leftover women in China. “Leftover women” was defined as those women who are single and over 27 years old. Most so-called leftover women hold a master’s or doctorate degree.

In 2008, I met a young girl who was only 24 years old. She didn’t plan to pursue her doctorate degree here. She was afraid that nobody would like to marry her after she goes back to China, at which time she would be 27 years old.

Age discrimination is easily identified in China. It is impossible for a 35-year-old woman to find a job in the governmental institutions; it is impossible for a 30-year-old woman to find a position at the front desk in companies.

Nobody would say, “I am 35 years old; I am old.” So why does 27 years old or 35 years old matter? What does “27-year-old” mean to a person? It just means that, 27 years ago, he or she was born.

However, the social institutions, the social norms and the culture say, “No, no, no. It is better for a woman to marry before 27 years old. The best age for having a baby is no later than 27 years old.” Of course, these statements are not scientifically proven. However, nobody questions them.

The sex ratio in China is imbalanced due to the one-child policy. The families in China favor boys, especially in rural China. There will be more men who would never be married in the future. They will compete with each other for brides. However, why is the Chinese government worried about the unmarried young women with higher-education backgrounds so much? We don’t know the definite answer.

However, I understand the pressures the so-called leftover women confront from their families and society. The pressure also results from having no way to enjoy their social welfare due to their single marital status. In China, only married couples have the privilege to enjoy the social welfare when they buy a house. It seems that people and society treat women in China as commodities. I am shocked by the Chinese Women Federation picking up “leftover women” into its lexicon for the governmental report. “Leftover” burned my eyes and my heart.

Kent State University is becoming internationalized. Do we know how many Chinese young women at Kent State are in the so-called leftover crisis and how they feel? Or do we know how many international young women at Kent State are in the so-called leftover crisis? And do we know how many women overall at Kent State are in the so-called leftover crisis? Does the discourse of “leftover women” matter when we pursue social justice globally?

Tianhong Zhang is a graduate student in the College of Education, Health and Human Services. Contact him at [email protected].