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Rachel Wang

Chinese Single Women’s Ideal Men: ‘Secondhand’ Suitors Surprisingly Popular

(via Flickr/花花视界@厦门)

A recent survey of over 35,500 single ladies in China offers some insight into Chinese women’s attitudes towards men and marriage. The survey, which included questions such as “Why are you still single?” and “What kind of man do you hope to marry?”  shed light on the types of men that single Chinese women prefer, with some surprising results.

While 51.13% of the women surveyed regarded “getting married” as their goal, they reported that the top three male traits that made them prefer singlehood were men’s constant involvement in “ambiguous” love affairs, their tendency to talk a lot but accomplish little, and their stinginess. While these feelings may resonate globally, what set the Chinese marriage market apart were respondents’ attitudes towards men, as well as their expectations and standards for their potential future husbands.

When asked “What kind of men are you willing to marry?” the most popular response was “a divorced man who owns a house and car,” followed by “a successful 40-something man who has gone on a lot of blind dates but is still single.” Interestingly – and even a bit surprisingly – the least popular kind of man, coming in behind even “an unassuming computer programmer,” and “a handsome freelancer,” was the so-called “phoenix man,” a high-level corporate manager with a lot of relatives. More broadly defined, a “phoenix man” is someone who came from humble beginnings, made his way through school, exhausted resources of his family in the process, and was expected to change the fate of the family when he eventually succeeded.

Instead of being regarded as heroes who changed their own destinies, “phoenix men” have long been unpopular in the Chinese marriage market, especially among “peacock girls” – those from urban, relatively wealthy families. Women dislike what they perceive to be the men’s insecurity, fear of failure, penny pinching, inferiority complexes, and prioritization of his extended family over his own wife and kids. These are thought to be traits irreversibly ingrained in his psyche by the time he reaches adulthood.

Many Chinese believe that when you marry someone, you are marrying into a lifestyle and an entire family. In a country with conservative marriage traditions, many men and women still think divorce is shameful and that second marriages should be low-profile. China has some long-standing traditions when it comes to marriage, including especially tight family ties, living with the husband’s family after marriage, and having the wife serve his parents and potentially his entire family. In modern days, couples who live and work in more westernized urban areas are less likely to abide by such traditions, but they have not completely disappeared and may remain in the back of women’s minds like a time bomb.

Many single Chinese women therefore find it difficult to decide whom to marry. On the one hand, marrying a relatively rich divorced man is like taking a “secondhand” man, and they may feel they lose face by doing so. On the other hand, marrying an affluent “phoenix man” might embroil the woman in endless troubles with his extended family.

Netizens weighed in on the dilemma. One woman commented on the survey, “I personally think that you may lose face by marrying an old man [a divorced, middle-aged man], but at least you might have some security in life. He might also be less flirtatious [with other women]. A more stable life would bring you a sense of safety.” On Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform, user @bt桃子 remarked, “One reason marrying a divorced man is better than marrying a single man is that you can see what his attitude toward marriage is: whether he is abusive, whether he is responsible enough, whether he likes to get involved in love affairs. It’s hard to learn any of this about a single man unless you’ve lived closely with him for a while.”

A comment by Weibo user @一帘花碎影 illustrated some of the main complaints women have about “phoenix men:”

Love yourself! Stay away from phoenix men! They bear the entire family’s hopes while in college, and get what they believe is a good job in a state-owned company with a salary of two or three hundred thousand a year. If you are not from a rich family, his entire family will think that you are not good enough for him. Down the line, his relatives will always come visit him, borrow money for all sorts of reasons, and make you help them get jobs. If you don’t help them, they will think he is an ungrateful child who has no appreciation for their sacrifices.

Women faced these tough choices in a variety of ways. A plurality of those surveyed reported that in their single lives they chose to devote themselves to their work. Almost half reported they had no sex life. A sizable 13.28% said they did not want to marry, while 23.87% said they were, “uncertain, tired, and might never love again.”

In the end, many Chinese women still find choosing a marriage partner very difficult. An easier relationship might come with other trade-offs, while a harder one might not be worth the energy spent. It is worth noting, though, that only single women participated in this survey, so it does not reflect the views of all Chinese women or Chinese society as a whole. Many couples are happily married every day: the marriage registration computer system recently crashed because of the large volume of couples who wanted to get married on May 20, a date that is a homonym for “I love you” in Mandarin.

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Rachel Wang

Rachel Wang is currently based in Beijing working in media. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Economics, and enjoys reading analyses regarding international affairs, Tim Harford and books about china (that's with a lower-case "c").
  • Melisa

    In another survey 92% of Chinese women have prerequisite to marry men that are higher earners then them, for security or for materialism?

    • Jane

      for greed….

    • John

      Yep. 92% for high earners. Greed.
      They will leave you if you loose work or are ill. Pathetic materialistic humans.

      • Bill

        Adam. Yep, you have it. Greed is the word.
        Materialism, self-centredness and empty souls.

        The hatred of people of lower standing and many other dispicable traits that come with Greed.

  • Peter Pottinger

    Are u joking? i’m 30 and single and would love to find any Chinese girl to marry. Where are all these single girls people write of.

    Maybe I’m not rich enough lol

    • RW

      Hi Peter!
      Thank you for reading my piece. Great to have readers like you – who can take their time and leave comments:)
      First of all, I am not joking. The result is based on a survey with a relatively large sample, though you can question its credibility and potential bias.
      Second of all, to answer your question. Those single girls that I wrote about are in CHINA, mainly big cities.
      Third of all, I believe the guys they were talking about are specifically referring to Chinese guys, I mean Chinese-Chinese guys. As for international marriage, that’s another story.
      In the end, marriage market in China is indeed somehow distorted nowadays. Complicated issue. Of course, the ratio of international marriage is also increasing, which I personally believe it’s not a bad thing.

      • Peter Pottinger

        Ah, I see, its a completly different perspective. I’m living in Canada, but born in china. Maybe write an article focused on international marriages? I know its possible to vacation to China and perhaps meet a girl but, very expensive and also very tacky imo.

        • RW

          Thank you for the suggestion! International marriage is also an important/interesting phenomenon in nowaday China.

        • Kingandrew

          I think that foreign guys are often seen as quite acceptable, since many of them do make high salaries by Chinese standards and may provide opportunities to live in or visit other countries. Quite a few of the expatriates here in Shanghai are very highly paid executives for multinational firms, but even English teachers can do very well by Chinese financial standards. Foreigners also don’t have all the family baggage that comes with a Chinese man.

          However, I am sure some women would prefer a Chinese mate. Big cities like Shanghai obviously attract the more adventurous and ambitious women, who might be more open to such a pairing than those who stayed in their home villages.

          • Peter Pottinger

            I’m 100% Chinese and my job is that of a software developer, just to give you a indication of my salary.

            Now where are all these single Chinese girls?

  • Hai Bo Wang

    I am a Chinese woman who left China 13 years ago and have been living in Montreal and China ever since. China, with its reset of social, economical and slowly following cultural values, is dashing its way towards the world. I see phenomen of amazing changes and, sadly that of going backward in many aspects. The ideal relationship and value of love above materialism and insecurity has been travelling farther and farther from the land of China. Love has simply become a pure luxury which strangely is excluding every one in China, leaving the luxury an sarcastic notion.

    • Daryl

      Thank you. Finally a true and honest perspective on the materilistic Chinese culture that the world is seeing more openly now.
      In my experience it seems to be a decline of the soul.
      Where is true love?

      • Hai Bo Wang

        Dear Daryl: To be honest is the first step for changes to happen. As a woman of Chinese origin who grew up carrying all hopes and expectations for men to fill for us, I started a long journey of looking for true love, sincerity and big love by LEAVING this complicated and sophisticated OLD land.

        As a result of my experience in China and Canada ( a multi-cultural country with different beliefs and value systems), I find that this PROBLEM is not exclusive to Chinese women and strange to women of other nations, including many of some developed countries. Only that they are subtler and in many other forms. This problem appears strongly striking mostly because China goes too fast in its development, leaving women to express the pain and fear of the society with no cure.

        I do not quite agree to what you said that “it seems to be a decline of soul”. I would rather say: It didn’t fall from a higher place (decline), rather a repetition of its old value ( women depend on men for survival willingly or UNWILLINGLY) with accelerating graveness.

        Chinese have always been teaching their child a narrow, selfish love since history. Women haven’t even been their educational beneficiary. It’s sad and pitiful for me to see and feel their frustration in families and society, and I believe that they CAN BE beautiful women when they are independent and conscious of the possibility of being true beautiful women. They need people to show them how. To conclude with doors forever closed is not my purpose of writing.

        I have hope and I will be one who has broken out of this sad circle.

        Thanks for replying, Daryl.

        Have a nice day!

        • Daryl

          Dear Hoi Bo Wang. I see and understand what you wrote “as a repitition of it’s old value”.

          I suppose it is early days.( in terms of China’s rise) The females i am thinking of ( and one of whom I personaly and closely know) are educated,independent and in their late 40s.
          To be lied too constantly, so naturaly and as a matter of course, naws deeply at my heart and soul.

          I suppose i may have taken these experiences to heart as I have stayed away from this type of character in Australia only to be in-undated with it in China.

          You seem to perhaps be as sad as I to understand, yet unable to do anything, but merely observe. I hope you have broken out of this sad circle. Unfortunately I had been deeply drawn into it.( or I let myself be drawn?)

          Thank you again for replying and I sincerely wish you a happy and fulfilling life.

  • Guest

    The novel that I am writing is about a Chinese woman’s struggle over, among many other things, this ideal man in her life. Chinese society set up her mentality and her mind was set for living and fighting in Chinese society, but unfortunately she changed country, to Canada, and even worse to Quebec where THE RELATIONSHIP type has been a unique one in the world. She got completely. She did not love her old husband any more, but she could neither fit in the QUebecois relationship type…

    To read the story, please go to: http://www.albertoforchielli.com/author/hai-bo-wang/

    The story is not finished yet.

    Peter Pottinger inquired about international marriage. The latter one 3rd of the story introduced this subject. The protagonist was trying a Quebecois man and the story will soon tell you if Ou Yang succeeded or not…

    Interesting writing, Rachel Wang!

  • Guest

    The novel that I am writing is about a Chinese woman’s struggle over, among many other things, this ideal man in her life. Chinese society set up her mentality and her mind was set for living and fighting in Chinese society, but unfortunately she changed country, to Canada, and even worse to Quebec where THE RELATIONSHIP type has been a unique one in the world. She got completely lost. She did not love her old husband any more, but she could neither fit in the Quebecois relationship type…

    To read the story, please go to: http://www.albertoforchielli.c

    The story is not finished yet.

    Peter Pottinger inquired about international marriage. The latter one 3rd of the story introduced the subject of international marriage. The protagonist was trying a Quebecois man and the story will soon tell you if Ou Yang succeeded or not…

    Interesting writing, Rachel Wang!

  • Hai Bo Wang

    The novel that I am writing is about a Chinese woman’s struggle over, among many other things, this ideal man in her life. Chinese society set up her mentality and her mind was set for living and fighting in Chinese society, but unfortunately she changed country, to Canada, and even worse to Quebec where THE RELATIONSHIP type has been a unique one in the world. She got completely lost. She did not love her old husband any more, but she could neither fit in the Quebecois relationship type…

    To read the story – The Hidden Seduction, please go to: http://www.albertoforchielli.c

    The story is not finished yet.

    Peter Pottinger inquired about international marriage. The latter one 3rd of the story introduced the subject of international marriage. The protagonist was trying a Quebecois man and the story will soon tell you if Ou Yang succeeded or not…

    Interesting writing, Rachel Wang!

  • Hai Bo Wang

    Sorry, couldn’t find a way to delete the older comments. :(

  • ComaPrison

    As an ABC “Phoenix man”, albeit with minimal/no ties to extended family, I find the stereotypical perspectives the polled women have to be offensive, laughable, and pitiful. With attitudes like that, no wonder they’re still single. Whether you are a Phoenix man or a Secondhand man, if you are at least reasonably attractive, have a good personality, and know how to make your woman feel special, you won’t have any problems getting a girlfriend/future wife.

  • Rufus

    Hello Rachel,

    I just found your post and I enjoy reading it. Your article about Chinese women and marriage is really closed to the truth I think from Chinese perspective. And I am actually running a website http://www.mynewchinesewife.com that is the resource of Chinese women and Chinese wife.

    I am wondering if you are interested in having a guest post in our website? Look forward your reply. Thank you and have a good day.

    Rufus

  • primepeng

    All these will be alive again by meeting white foreign guys. They have a lot to offer that no chinese can like being charming caring expressive romantic sexual interactive considerate responsive gentle aggressive masculine manhood understanding playful creative funny social intelligence matured and most importantly they treat you as an individual.

    • Paul

      Don’t forget the money! Wake up to yourself. They simply can not love you for any of those things you mentioned as it is not in them. Money is their key to love.

      Treated as an individual.! Only on her terms. They are not what you have dreamt in your head. Be seriously warned. It is not just the odd one, it is the breeding or DNA. Impossible for them to be anything different to what they are now. A sub-human.

      • primepeng

        USA prints money each month and they have all the money they want to enjoy free sex with the thought to be smart chinese gene women yet easily lured into bed by these specifically group of white men, WHOM are unemployed and laughing stocks in their own hometown.
        USA issues $85 billion of cash EACH MONTH under QE3 since 2012 nov. So the chinese women are taken over for sure. White men win chinese men lose

  • Jason

    Why do these Chinese women seem to think they are exceptional?
    Why are people falling for this miserable self-centered and manipulative trash.
    Have any of you actually been in relationships with Chinese women? Or worse still marry one of them.
    It is all nonsense. Leave them alone and let them rot in their own self- glory.

  • vikas

    Hi Rachel, that is a great article, I have lived in China during 2012 and I can resonate with what is their in the written pages, When we talk about International marriage in China, Do you have some numbers for Indian Chinese couple.
    During my stay in China, I came across a lot of cases of (Young Chinese + Old White Man) , whereas I could not find cases of Indian Chinese couple.
    I think I am a moderately successful man – 31 years old/live in Singapore and have a decent job. and I have tried to hook up with many Chinese girls but no one seems to be interested.

  • Carolyn

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    Hello,
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  • Carolyn

    My name is Andrey mark,from United Kingdom, i am in the England army, one day, we went to Iraq, leaving my wife and two kids. I was away from home for ONE year, when I returned my wife told me she was no longer interested in the marriage that if she could survive for 1 year without me, the marriage is meaningless. Leaving home for ONE year was not easy but not having a family when i came back was more difficult. I pleaded continuously with her for 2 years even left the army just to convince her but all my attempt to get her back failed.On one faithful day, as I was about to sign a friend’s guest book, I saw a post about a spell caster, at first I laughed but took the email address and phone number. After 2days something inside of me just asked me to contact him so i did and he cast a spell for me and he told me she was going to come back to me after 24 hours, to my surprise she called me even before the 24 hours elapsed and she said honey where are you, I’m outside the house, please come and open the door for me. I opened the door and she came in, immediately she fell down on her knees and apologized to me, she said she was wrong to have left me and said she wanted me back. This is a big miracle….. All thanks to Dr iayaryi of (driayaryi2012@hotmail.com), if not for him,I wonder the kind of life I would have lived. I want to use this medium to encourage other men and women out there, to contact this great spell caster, he is one of the greatest spell caster that ever exist. Dr iayaryi have all kinds of spell and these include Love spell, Lucky spell,business spell,spell to stop divorce, Favor spell, curing spell e.t.c. This is his direct contact: (driayaryi2012@hotmail.com) or you can contact him directly through his personal (driayaryi2012@hotmail.com)