SHANGHAI, China — Christine Yu is single, sophisticated and successful. A senior internal auditor with a large company, Yu spends her free time practicing English at a language club and dancing, often with a paid instructor.
She does not spend her free time trying to find the right man.
“I’m very picky, I think,” Yu said.
At 29, Yu is part of a new generation of young urban Chinese women who say they have more choices than their mothers did when it comes to education, careers and, especially, marriage.
“If I don’t love him, how can I have kids with him?” she asks.
It may have been a while since you heard the words “women’s lib,” but the idea has arrived with a vengeance in China, where women are becoming empowered like never before.
For centuries, Chinese women were expected to raise families and cater to their husbands, but that attitude is fading fast. In a 2004 survey by the Asian Women’s Forum and the Women’s Studies Center at Peking University, 45.3 percent of women said they did not think they should have to give up a career for a family life.
One family, one child, one mindset
In a 2004 report, sociologists at China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission traced the new attitude to the one family-one child policies of the 1980s. The traditional Chinese preference for sons over daughters led to an epidemic of illegal gender-related abortion, creating a significant imbalance among young adults today. In some parts of the country, men outnumber women by as much as 20 percent.
In families that did have daughters, the one-child policy meant most girls were raised as only children, lavished with esteem-boosting attention from parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents in China’s multi-generational households.
As a result, China now boasts a generation of educated career women in great demand by suitors. But that interest isn’t always reciprocated.
Nearly three-quarters of Chinese women want to be economically independent, a survey last year by the Institute of Marriage and Family found. This year, in the largest survey ever conducted of Chinese gender perceptions, the All-China Women’s Federation found that a similar percentage said media depictions of women as subservient to men were a major obstacle.
Sabrina Wei, 25, a self-described entrepreneur in Shanghai, is like many young Chinese women. She is in no hurry to settle down with a husband.
“I always strive for the best, and I can wait,” she said.
Here come the brides — where?
By 2020, the State Population and Family Planning Commission estimates, as many as 30 million men won’t be able to find wives. Around the country, many are hard at work to avoid that trap.
Speed-dating events — something new to China — are often packed with men hoping five minutes of charm can lead to a lifetime of companionship. There, many cling to older notions of what women want, saying they are desperate for big-money jobs that they believe are the key to their having a shot at marrying a woman from the big city.
“It’s essential for a man to make more money,” one man said. Specifically, said another, “the most important thing” is the house and the car.
They’ve got it all wrong, said Hung Huang, CEO of the sprawling China Interactive Media Group, which publishes Qingnian Yizu, the Mandarin version of the popular American teenybopper magazine Seventeen, among many other youth-oriented titles.
Money and security aren’t what attract the new generation of successful, busy young women, the All-China Women’s Federation survey found. Instead, they rate a sense of responsibility and personal integrity as the most important traits in a partner. Two-thirds, in fact, said they wouldn’t mind if their husbands brought home less money than they did.
Those numbers should put men on notice, Hung said.
“What Chinese men need is a good slap in the face and a wake-up call.”
Mark Mullen is NBC News’ Beijing bureau chief. Alex Johnson is a reporter for MSNBC.com. NBC News producer Adrienne Mong contributed to this report from Beijing.