“Lonely Hearts”​ The Story of the Unwanted Bachelors

Many African singletons struggle to find love, but for many men in China the task seems insurmountable, due to a severe shortage of women. The one child policy, though I believe necessary, has had some very harsh knock-on effects. Put briefly, the one-child policy and China’s traditional preference for sons has led millions of couples to abort female fetuses. The net result is a huge shortage of women and millions of men who can’t find wives, unless if they have the money to pay for it.

Marcel and Li Dongmin, one of millions of lonely bachelors looking for love across China at a singles event in a Beijing mall

In a documentary “China’s Lonely Hearts” produced in 2013 by Channel 4 Unreported World, sees Reporter Marcel Theroux and director Frankie Fathers join some of China’s many millions of male lonely hearts on their search for a wife. They also met some of the ‘Love Hunters’ working to find rich single men the ideal bride.

Marcel and the 'love hunter' Rong Na
Marcel and the ‘love hunter’ Rong Na  shopping for a wife in a large shopping mall

In the documentary, Unreported World follows a 30-year-old Rong Na, who is an elegant and vivacious ‘love hunter’, employed by an agency called Diamond Love and Marriage to find wives for some of China’s richest men. She was on a quest to find a Miss Right to pair with an unnamed client, Mr. X. Mr. X is very particular about what he wants: not just clear pale skin and good teeth, but a pointy chin, full cheeks and a good character. Very picky. But he’s got plenty of money, and 200 people looking on his behalf in four different cities. He probably found what he wanted in the end.

Less hopeful is Li Dongming, a 39-year-old migrant laborer in Beijing. Everything is stacked against him – his age, his salary, the fact that he has no property, or Beijing residency status. Li Dongmin’s desperation to find a wife, epitomizes the plight of many China’s unwanted bachelors. 

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Marcel and Dongmin at a marriage market where he is harshly rejected for not owning property and not living in Beijing

In China, they don’t mess about with small talk like: “what kind of music do you like”, et cetera. First-date chitchat goes something like this: “show me your birth certificate, your visa, your bank balance … mmmm … nah, actually suddenly I’m not single, bog off”. They do not beat about the bush. Despite Li Dongmin best efforts, he kept failing to find love. In the village where he grew up, his mother was lamenting because of her neighbors were laughing at her son’s inability to find a bride. It’s a sad story.

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Dong Min and his 72 year old mother Qin Yin Luan in his home village in a poor rural area of China

The growing number of single men in China can be attributed to a number of factors other than the China’s one-child policy, which when coupled with a cultural preference for male children, led to mass abortions of girls.

Education and economic growth are also partly to blame. Women today are mostly on equal footing economically making it difficult for men to marry down or even equal if the wanted to. economic status has become a huge relationship barrier to most single man in China. Women want to marry up, but men want to marry down. Women are more likely than men to settle for a partner of equal status than men. Men feel they will lose face by marrying up whilst Women feel they will lose face by marrying down. It’s complicated.

Old customs and beliefs also contribute to this dilemma. The old dowry culture is still being practiced even today, where the parents of the bride expect the groom’s family to pay dowry. Not only that, but most parents of a girl will not allow her to marry any boy that does not already own a home and car. I was surprised to realize that in china, love is not the first priority in marriage. Property, respectability and the future are what matter most. It is more like a business contract than anything else.

Chinese man’s perception of an Ideal bride is also to blame. Many men regardless of their age and the fact that there is a shortage of women, do not like to marry any woman over the age of 25. These women are referred to as leftover women. Many men also do not want to marry a woman that is divorced even if they themselves are divorced.

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As I set there watching this documentary about “China’s Lonely Hearts” as a person who has never been to China before, it made me realize that China was a mystery that the outside world had failed to penetrate. Through this documentary, I felt as if I had been let right in to the heart of the country, into a story that tells you everything about all the things that have shaped China over the last 20 years: the rural to urban migration, the huge gulf that has opened up between rich and poor, and the one-child policy.

This then got me thinking, is there a better means to mitigate this?

 The government of China took positive steps in the right direction when they decided to discontinue the one child policy in 2015, allowing couples to have two children. But this could probably take a very long time to correct China’s notably imbalanced sex-ratio.

 How about now, can’t single Chinese man find love outside China?

China has this huge shortage of women and there is Hong Kong, for example, which has slightly more women than men. Perhaps, in my opinion, the government should facilitate more cross-border marriages between Hong Kong and the mainland China. 

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