Earlier in 2018, Sammi Zhao, a returnee and a holder of Australian permanent residence, slurped her drink and thudded the tall glass on a table at The Loop, an expats’ hangout spot in Nanjing. Complaining about “the hell” she had for Spring Festival, she said that her mother had turned everyone in the family against her for not being married at the age of 30. Sammi won’t be entering the dating market anytime soon.
“Is it a crime for women to be thirty?” she asked, and told, The Nanjinger, that she wants to settle down. “I’m not even a feminist. I want have a man to share the bills with. But, hey, at least the man needs to be capable of that, right?” But to her dismay, all the men she went on the blind dates with are either, in her words, “whackos or wusses”, who, for instance, hurled it right in her face on their first date that he isn’t going to do anything in the house once they get married. “It’s all me. (He) said that I need to be presentable around the clock so I don’t shame him.” Sammi swigged her drink in three gulps and continued. “The cherry on top is that the pig is f****** ugly! No, ugly does not even justify the magnitude of his ugliness! I pride myself for having the guts to sit in front of that horrifying face of a tumour for nearly an hour and a half! But you know what my mum did? She called me shallow! So what the man is a little chubby? “Ugly is better than a pretty cheater”, she said. Be a good wife to him and he’ll give you his money to keep you around. OMG! Does she not have a clue that the last dynasty of Chinese feudalism was toppled over 100 years ago?”
Sami’s problem put The Nanjinger on the spot with a barrage of more questions. For starters, since when did ugliness become the insurance against cheating? And why is it that Chinese women need to consume thousand dollars of lipsticks a year and go as far as numerous plastic surgeries to please men, while men don’t even bother put on deodorant? Who or what has accoladed men with such privilege in China?
Ugliness surely does not guarantee one’s rectitude. As Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” Whoever gets the upper hand, may it be the money or the face, powers up in the algorithm of sex. Being deeply aware of the gospel truth, both Chinese men and women organised their own cults to play for the win in the dating market. Ayawawa, a polarising self-help guru who had her Weibo account suspended earlier in May, due to “inappropriate comments” on comfort women, is a good case in point. Ayawawa, whose real name is Yang Bingyang, and alleged to run the world’s largest “love consultancy”, is revered by a whopping number of Chinese women as a relationship expert. Her teaching of women’s manipulation of men through a display of absolute obedience to them is canonised as the salvation for single women nationwide. “Life is hard for women”, Ayawawa said in her online talk show a while back. “I give them survival strategies.”
What constitutes the issue of 30s women as left-over has a striking parallel with the situation that is also its condition. It first captured international attention when the BBC reported China’s problem with “left-over” women back in the early 2010s. These women are often highly educated, career-driven and last but not least, in their 30s. Being a 30-something, for a woman, as far as the trend is concerned, is synonymous with being left-over, if not worse, because throughout the Chinese history, marriage has always been the gauge of a woman’s success. As the proverb goes, “Working well is no matter than marrying well”. Being single at 30 goes beyond an unfilial act, scathed by all the kin in the extended family, composed of distant relatives and long term friends; it is the final announcement of personal failure.
As regards the dating market, “It’s a bliss for a girl to be without a talent”. In other words, the more stupid is the girl, the less likely will she act out to change her fate. Whereas Chinese families inculcate in their girls the thousand-year-old belief that they can secure a good life by tethering a man if they fawn on him, they never begrudge spending extras on their daughters’ education; in school, girls are as much flogged as are boys to realise their best potential. Yet, they do not understand until later in their womanhood that the education provided by their parents is more of dowry, one of the checks on the list of approvals for an ideal marriage, say, to a rich man.
Likewise, Chinese parenting of boys is also problematic. Seldom are boys asked to do any chores, or “women’s work”. Being at centre of the family and protected by layers of parents, grands and great-grands, these mummy’s boys can hardly evade the fate of being a self-absorbed whacko-doddle.
A Chinese student at the University of Toronto, who declined to disclose her name due to privacy concerns, shared her dating market story with The Nanjinger. During the summer she has spent in China, her ex-hookup, who has been married for less than half a year and is expecting his first child due in three months, flirted with her on WeChat and asked her for money as a “gesture of love” on 20 May this year, another Chinese equivalent to Valentine’s Day, due to the pronunciation in Chinese similar to “I love you”. Yes, please get used to God knows how many valentine’s days a year we have here to celebrate wealth in the name of love. No, not all guys grow up to be a man. The ex-hookup happens to be a specimen of China’s man-child, who evolves from a mummy’s boy to a seeker of mummies.
Whereas women scheme to tether men, men play their game to tame girls. Besides love consultancies for women, rampaging the country meanwhile is pickup artistry organisations that has made being an asshole into a profession. Their techniques entail steps of “trapping” and emotional manipulation.
In today’s dating market, love is off the table. Against the context of consumerism where everything must sell, and where it is our fictions (bonds, stocks, and the idea of money), not productions, that really make the deal, few are eager to lean in and make a difference. By contrast, we want to lean on something, or someone, and lie down because our education has made us obedient adaptors to our given milieu. Smart, but not necessarily wise.