Hunan county implores local women to stay and marry as rural bachelor crisis worsens

Society & Culture

A rural county in Hunan Province has made a plan to encourage local women to stay in the area and look for love amongst its many bachelors. But commenters are worried that the authorities could eventually restrict women’s ability to move away.

Wang Feng / Reuters

China is in the grip of a marriage crisis. In 2020, only 8.13 million couples tied the knot, a 12% drop from the previous year, and the seventh consecutive year of decline. The phenomenon is in part caused by a staggering gender imbalance in its population: Right now, the country has nearly 35 million more single men than women, and about half of them are in their 20s to 40s, an age range that is typically aligned with family formation in China.

The problem of surplus bachelors is even more dire in the countryside, where a growing number of young women have left their hometowns and moved to urban areas for more job opportunities and better dating prospects. 

Identifying this as some situation that needs to be dealt with, a county in Hunan Province has suggested a direct solution: Make women stay and make them marry!

The policy is included in an action plan (in Chinese) issued recently by the local government of ​​Xiangyin, a county in Hunan’s Yueyang city. In response to a letter submitted by a local official, who described rural men’s difficulties in getting married as “a social issue” that requires “urgent attention,” the county’s Civil Affairs Bureau released the document, which includes a variety of proposals aimed at helping male villagers get hitched.

“Education and guidance should be provided to make women born in rural regions feel passionate about their hometowns and willing to improve the environment they grew up in,” local officials write. “They need to be encouraged to stay and change the face of their villages, as well as make their contribution to correcting the gender imbalance in the countryside.”

The proposal is categorized as “propaganda work” in the plan. Under the same section, the Bureau also pledges to popularize a new style of “modest” dating and marriage in the county, one that’s freed from old traditions like complicated wedding customs and betrothal gifts, which typically include pricey items such as houses and cars.

Elsewhere in the document, the government promises to simplify the marriage registration process, organize matchmaking events, and increase income levels among local men.

Most of the ideas put forward by ​​Xiangyin are not original. Under a nationwide campaign led by the central government to crack down on China’s increasingly extravagant wedding culture, a village in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, decided in 2018 to cap betrothal gifts at 20,000 yuan ($3,100) in an effort to ease the financial pressure on potential grooms. Last month, local officials in the city of Bozhou, Anhui Province, announced that they would host weekly events where local bachelors can meet and mingle with single women willing to date.

But the part where ​​Xiangyin urges women to stay in their hometowns is new, and it has struck many people on the Chinese internet as an insulting suggestion that only serves the interest of single men and local officials. “Xiangyin looks like it’s trying to manipulate women into thinking that they have to marry local men if they love their hometowns. And this is nonsense,” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese). 

Others raised concerns that Xiangyin might be planning to take a more aggressive approach to solve its bachelor crisis, one that could involve restricting women’s ability to move to urban areas in the future. “Girls in Xiangyin, leave that place as soon as you can. Why stay at a place where you are treated like objects to satisfy its surplus of bachelors when you will find more freedom and receive more respect elsewhere?” another person wrote.

Some observers also pointed out that Xiangyin’s suggestion bears an unsettling resemblance to a contentious idea introduced by a Chinese economist named Wú Xiūmíng 吴修明 earlier this year. In an interview, Wu suggested that single women in cities should pair up with bachelors from the countryside, despite vast differences in social and economic backgrounds. Back then, his proposal was pilloried by urban women, who said they were perfectly fine with being single and would never compromise their standards for the sake of getting married. Now, Xiangyin’s proposal is interpreted by many critics as another attempt by authorities to “allocate women,” but this time, another group of women is being targeted.