China's Lonely Seeking a Spouse- at Discount Rates

A post describing an ideal "budget wife" leads to much soul-searching online.


Get 'em before prices rise ... (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Are you a "budget wife"?

Despite the name, being a budget wife -- or jingji shiyong nv in Chinese -- is harder than it seems. According a list published by an anonymous Web user on Sina Weibo, China's most popular micro-blogging platform, to qualify as one, you must:

  • Be between 5'2" and 5'8"
  • Weigh between 100 and 120 pounds
  • Have long hair that trails over shoulders
  • Be warm and mild in personality
  • Have B- to C-cup size breasts
  • Not be a "gold digger" (baijinnv)
  • Not be a flirt
  • Be a little horny
  • Earn between roughly $500-$1000 per month
  • Have a BA or above
  • Know how to cook and wash clothes
  • Be responsible and sympathetic
  • Speak appropriately
  • Be educated and reasonable

Within two days of its posting, Web user (and, it happens, policeman) @王于京's comment containing the above list was re-tweeted over 10,000 times and gathered over 6,700 replies. This newly coined term is currently a trending topic on Sina Weibo, with 5.6 million mentions.

"Budget wife" is the female counterpart of "budget husband," or jingji shiyong nan, a concept introduced at least four years ago. The 2009 publication of the book Me and My Budget Husband popularized the term, and its 2012 transformation into a TV drama series fueled the term's further spread.

The word "budget husband" originates from the word "budget housing" (jingji shiyong fang), government subsidized public housing for low-income households. As the name implies, budget husbands' economic power trails that of "diamond husbands" -- intelligent, educated, rich, and well-mannered men from respectable families. Nonetheless, a budget husband is, according to Baidu, the new ideal among Chinese female white-collar workers.

One of the main characteristics of a budget husband is that he be "normal." Not ugly but not too handsome; neither poor nor rich. In short: mediocre.

But this mediocrity promises stability. Budget husbands are reliable, both financially and emotionally. They will loyally stay at home and take care of the house; they will not go out to bars or have extramarital affairs.

The criteria of a budget husband are as follows:

  • Between 5'8" and 5'11"
  • Weighs between roughly 145-190 pounds
  • Normal haircut and appearance
  • Warm and mild personality
  • Does not smoke, drinks little, doesn't love frequenting bars
  • Has a BA or above
  • Earns between $500 and $1,600) per month
  • Knows how to cook
  • Has filial piety and refined manners
  • Patient, loving, keen to advance forward, modest, earnest, magnanimous, absolutely devoted and loyal, ready to shoulder responsibility

The newly released "budget wife" list has sparked much debate among Chinese Web users. A running poll on Weibo found that 50.6 percent of those who voted consider such standards "fleeting" and believe finding a suitable match is more important, while 15.9 percent believe that the standards are unreliable and in fact describe baifumei (fair-skinned, rich, and beautiful women), and not regular women.

10.8 percent find the standards reliable and believe that women who possess such qualities would manage a household well. 9.4 percent answered they these are criteria for finding housekeepers, not wives. Only 6.9 percent of the voters agreed that women who fit the description are suitable wives for budget husbands.

Some 6.4 percent answered indignantly, "What, if you don't have a B-cup then you're not fit for marriage?"

Many female Web users criticized the list as unrealistic and unattainable, describing standards for "goddesses." Others protested their superficiality, posing questions such as: "Why does your hair have to be long?" "If the wife can't cook, why doesn't the couple just eat out, or cook together?"

Some compared themselves to the list and lamented their ineligibility. "I don't satisfy the qualifications ... I am overweight, not mild or warm, and do not how to cook ... " wrote @小团子-赵晨.

Despite such complaints, however, a parade of self-advertisement washed over Weibo as well.

"[The requirements] are actually not that bad. I don't know how to cook that well, but I'm OK with all the other requirements. I'll just get a raise later, and it's all fine!" wrote @静怡思妮V. "Besides 'not being a flirt' and the salary requirement, I perfectly fit all the other criteria!" commented @佳恩-好运来. "This list is obviously talking about me, it's just that right now I can't earn that money," wrote another user.

It is unclear how many of the comments were ironic.

Some male web users echoed this sentiment that such women are difficult to find. "Most girls wouldn't qualify [as a budget wife]," commented male Web user @DJ产桂文. "I would never find such a wife in this lifetime," wrote @ 一切只是个过程.

Other men, however, defended the list as reasonable: "In fact, when looked at from another angle, these standards show that men are becoming increasingly realistic. What we value most in a spouse is that she has the ability to keep a household, and that we can spend our days together peacefully," commented one Chinese man in an interview with Chutian Metropolis (@楚天都市报).

Though many of the characteristics listed reinforce traditional notions of female sexual apathy -- she cannot be flirtatious or sexually adventurous -- and reflect the prevalence of gender-based expectations, they also stress the importance of possessing practical life skills. For example, it is not sufficient for a wife to be just pretty. She must be educated, reasonable, and well mannered -- not a "gold digger" or a "trophy wife."

Perhaps China's eligible bachelors are tired of the materialism and superficiality that seemingly pervade society, and long for wives who view them as something more than mere providers of cars and houses.

As one Chinese man said: "I just want someone with whom I can get along and spend my days -- someone who would add light to my life."

This post also appears at Tea Leaf Nation, an Atlantic partner site.