Fewer daughters will raise women’s value
The Chinese countryside is scattered with posters urging people to remember that “Girls are just as good as boys,” but the surplus of men keeps rising.
According to a study released in April 2009 by the British Medical Journal, currently, 117 boys are born in China for every 100 girls, a rise from earlier figures of 108 to 100.
Gender screening during pregnancy, and follow up abortions, may be illegal, but they’re still common. Traditional thinking has combined with modern tools to create a gender gulf. But what impact will the imbalance have on Chinese culture?
Traditional Chinese society placed higher value on men, and thus sons. It was the sons who would continue the family name, go on working with their parents and support them. This is not just an aspect of Chinese culture, but is common in other societies as well. In fact, when my brother married and took his wife’s family name, some people asked me if I now had to keep mine – at which my mother immediately shook her head.
Women still face the “glass ceiling” in many careers too. Even in school, it is common to assume that men have more aptitude for the “important” subjects such as mathematics and sciences, whereas woman are better in the “soft” subjects such as languages. Often, this even goes to the point where it is thought that men were simply more talented and intelligent.
From actual data, however, we increasingly see that it is, in fact, the girls who study better at school, let alone at university.
Yet, there are still more boys than girls being born, because education isn’t the only value here. The one-child policy is clearly having an effect; families may only value boys a little more than girls, but if they only have one chance, they don’t want to waste it.
Another quality of Chinese social thought is the high value placed on family. A life is seen as incomplete without marriage and children. Typically, parents are also looking for a great match for their child. A potential husband has to be able to care for his wife, while a wife has to be cultivated, a good mother, and preferably pretty.
A part of that traditional thought is also that love takes second stage, at best, after practical considerations. The two potential partners have to be seen as fitting together. Character plays its part in that, but so do material, social status, and ethnic background.
Where does that leave the millions of Chinese men who, by 2020, will not be able to find a Chinese wife? What effect will this have on the culture?
Clearly, something has to give. Most analysts writing about this issue have been somewhat pessimistic, predicting a rise in human trafficking and prostitution, especially the import of foreign women from poorer countries and regions, such as Southeast Asia and eastern Russia, into China. Increasing numbers of young men may also make society more aggressive.
But let’s take a more positive approach. Regard for daughters will probably rise as well, as people recognize that daughters are usually easier than sons to raise into good adults who will learn well, work hard, and not forget about their parents. Most importantly, as the rarer of the sexes, they will have a better shot on the marriage market.
For the men things will get harder: The chances that the woman will have to be a foreigner will be better as there are simply too few Chinese women. The men will have to work particularly hard to attract and keep their partner, whether Chinese or foreign, since the women will have more choice.
The sooner it is realized that it is increasingly better to have a girl than to have a boy, and the sooner the old prejudices against women being educated too highly or reaching too powerful positions are abolished, the better it will be for China.
Women can’t be seen just as producers of the next generation of sons. Culture may change slowly, but the regions of Hong Kong and Taiwan, with similar cultures and traditions, both have low birth-rates and balanced gender ratios. The Chinese mainland clearly has the potential to change fast.