An ad by cosmetics company SK-II recently went viral in China. The ad tackles the topic of “leftover women,” women in China who are not married by age 25. Watch the ad below.
The ad has had millions of views and has sparked debate and discussion around the country. Some people believe the ad is empowering. Some think it is pandering. Personally, I think the ad is daring not only because it empowers women, but because it directly undermines the Chinese government.
The derogatory term “leftover women” (剩女; shèngnǚ;) was coined over a decade ago by the All-China Women’s Association, an organization that was founded in 1949 as the leader of the women’s rights movement but has become little more than a Party mouthpiece to help keep women in their place. The term refers to women over 25 (it was 27, but apparently the age has been lowered in recent years) who are not yet married and thus unlikely to get married. Even though these women are typically not married because they have been furthering their education and careers, they are considered a drain on society because they are not getting married and giving birth to the next generation. Even though China’s explosive rate of leftover men is a much larger problem, shengnan (剩男) are not similarly criticized and the term doesn’t hold the same meaning. Men can get married at any time in their lives and are expected to get married later as they pursue their careers. Since there are at least 20 million more men in China than women, it is unavoidable that many of these men will never marry.
Leftover men are viewed victims who don’t have a choice but to remain single; leftover women are viewed selfish for choosing to remain single.
The Chinese government has been behind this calculated attack on urban, educated women from the beginning. China has been hurtling toward a demographic disaster since the inception of the one-child policy in 1979, but China has only been taking steps to correct this course in recent years. By focusing on “leftover women,” the Chinese government was able to shift the blame the countries lack of employees to women who are getting jobs instead of getting husbands and pivot away from blame on the one-child policy. “Yes, we are in a bad situation, but it wouldn’t be this bad if those women were hunting for husbands as hard as they are hunting for jobs,” the government seems to say. By not taking one of the millions of leftover men into her bed and giving birth to the next generation of Chinese workers, unmarried women in China are not doing their duty for the Chinese State.
The Chinese government has even ramped up its attacks on unmarried women in recent years. Especially since the adoption of the two-child policy, you expect to see more attacks against “leftover women” because these women are actively working against China’s efforts to increase its population.
I’m surprised that the SK-II ad was approved by Chinese censors and it hasn’t been removed. The message that women don’t need to get married or have kids is totally contrary to the message the Chinese government has been sending women for over a decade.