Dunhuang is in one of the poorest corners of China, in the province of Gansu, in the northwest. In its day, this city of barely 200,000 inhabitants -imimitable by Chinese standards- was a key oasis of the Silk Road. Even today, its dunes that are tens of meters high, its Bactrian camels and its large spaces reveal that this place is far away from Beijing. Here, every day Wang Lei, 32, distributes food on his bike from sunrise to sunset and when he has a moment, he looks at his mobile to find the couple's applications. At the moment, without luck.
Wang fears he is condemned to be one of thirty million males in China who will not find a wife because the one-child policy and the preference for a male They have created a strong imbalance in the births of men and women during their more than thirty years of existence. Currently, there are 114 men for every 100 women.
This has caused – in addition to a trafficking business of women brought from poorer neighboring countries – an imbalance in the availability of couples at the time of marriage. Something that in China, although the number of weddings is getting smaller and young people are getting married later, is still considered an essential part of the arrival to maturity and a necessary step for the continuity of families. According to data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, in 2017 the age of the majority of the marriage spouses ranged between 25 and 29 years.
Although the problems are different for them than for them. Chinese involuntary celibates tend to be low-income, low-educated men, residents of rural areas or migrants to large cities. They are known as "guang gun", or "dry branches". They, on the other hand, tend to be women of a high educational level, unwilling to mate for themselves or who prefer to put their careers before starting a family. For these single women over thirty, the nickname is much more derogatory: "sheng nü", or "leftover women".
"Here in Dunhuang men usually get married at 25 or 26 years old. I am already too old, "laments Wang." My friends from school already have children in elementary school. And where are mine? Every time I see my friends, my soul drops to my feet. I do not dare to talk to them for a long time, because if not, we started talking about families yes or yes. " So that you do not look strange, he says, you must have your first child before age 35.
Wang Lei is sociable, has some savings, has bought an apartment, and his salary is around 4,000-5,000 yuan per month (500-700 euros, in line with the average for this area of Gansu). During the tourist high season, you can earn a thousand euros a month. "If you have a good job, you are an official, or a teacher, with fixed income, you can get a girlfriend who has a good job. If you are a boss in a company, you can choose whoever you want. But if you do not have a good job, you have few options, "he explains.
One of the problems is the ancestral custom of paying a dowry to the bride's family, a practice that is still deeply rooted, especially in rural areas. A dowry that can reach crazy levels, to the point that in some places local governments have had to impose limits. In the Huzhu region, where 100,000 yuan (about 13,000 euros, the equivalent of ten months of an average salary in Shanghai, the highest paid city in China) had been ordered, the maximum allowed is 60,000. In Dunhuang, Wang explains, he is expected to pay about 10,000 yuan, or two months of salary.
Another problem is the difficulty in finding "suitable" girls, he says. In other times, that task would have corresponded to his parents, who would have been in charge of looking for candidates through family connections or professional matchmakers. In cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, in the parks of Zhongshan or the People, respectively, it is possible to see each weekend groups of parents who exhibit on posters the virtues of their son or daughter and scrutinize those of others in search of possible twin souls. But now, says Wang, his mother is already too old and can not take care of looking for a girlfriend. "So I depend on myself, or my friends."
Express and blind quotes
At the other end of the country, in Shanghai, the Chinese economic capital, about 200 boys and girls pick up an identification number and enter a limited space in the lobby of a shopping center, before the curious looks of a public in search of On sale. Most students from elite universities, some of them already working, come to participate in a session of speed dating, blind dates in a row and a few minutes each. Let's see if the crush arises.
"Jimmy", 35 years old and interpreter of Japanese, declares himself very nervous; It is the first time that you participate in an event of this kind. "I'm looking for a girl who is very traditional, like me. I want her to be beautiful. But that does not have many university degrees, the girls with too many studies are too demanding ".
And that is, precisely, the situation faced by young women well prepared for the new Chinese generations. Although, theoretically, they can afford to choose, in general they prefer couples with a somewhat lower level of education. And they do not want to settle for less.
Meanwhile, Wang Lei is still looking at his phone. Ma Guagua says he still has time to find a boyfriend "and if not, a partner to practice sex, without more". And "Jimmy"? That Saturday he did not find a girlfriend either. When the blind date session ended, he still stood by the chairs for a while. I could not believe it.
"My ex-soldiers have always looked after me like they were my nanny. The most difficult thing is to find a boyfriend who stimulates me intellectually, they always want me to be the one to listen to them. And I'm sorry, but I can not, "says Ma Guagua, a 26-year-old Pekinese with a master's degree in Paleontology.
Even in the media – or in television commercials – these women may be pressured to find a partner. The stereotype describes them as sad without the company of a man, too old to have good pregnancies or with problems of depression, anxiety and gynecological disorders.
The Chinese feminism on the rise in recent years has tried to combat this negative image. But social pressure is still very powerful, as Ma acknowledges. "My family has ever urged me to find a boyfriend and get married before it's too late. But I cut them in such a way that they have not brought me back to the subject, at the moment ".
And probably the social pressure to get married goes further. The shortage of births as a result of the one-child policy has caused an aging population that has set off alarm bells among the Chinese authorities, who are now desperately looking for the opposite: how to encourage births. Faced with the situation of desperation, some academics or even local governments, such as that of Liaoning Province, have proposed "single taxation" or couples without children.