New PBS documentary sheds a rare light on the personal struggles faced by single women in China

Society & Culture

There’s been a lot of ink spilled in the past few years over the issue of shengnu (剩女 shèngnǚ) — “leftover women” in China. Popularized by the All-China Women’s Federation in 2007, the derogatory term is used to describe single women over the age of 27. They have been subjected to media criticism and regulatory pressure from the Chinese government for failing in their roles as wives and breeders to keep the nation’s economic engines churning.

But the conversation about single Chinese women does not have to center on the Chinese government’s worries about falling birth rates, and the millions of surplus men who are seen as a threat to social stability if unmarried. Aside from the politics, every Chinese woman who chooses to stay single wrestles with their individual challenge: It could be overbearing parents interfering with and controlling their daughters’ relationships, men’s reluctance to date high-achieving women, or emotional burdens caused by early parental loss.

In the film Leftover Women, a feature documentary that premiered on PBS on February 10, filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia hone in on this personal aspect of the phenomenon, telling the powerful and heartfelt stories of three successful single women who are in search of a husband.

Since its release, the film has been gaining a great deal of traction (in Chinese) on the Chinese internet, with many praising its intimate portrayal of single women in China.

Click through to PBS for the full film.