Ladies: Beware 'Phoenix Men'

A survey of single women in China reveals a growing fear of men with too many family obligations.
chinabride.jpgCarlos Barria/Reuters

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 percent of the women surveyed regarded "getting married" as their goal, they reported that the top three male traits that made them prefer single-hood 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.

Rachel Wang is a contributor to Tea Leaf Nation.

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