What China's Talking About Today: Single Women Look for Love

A UK tradition pushes China's unmarried women to pursue the men, for once.

kissing feb29 p.jpg
A woman takes charge at a kissing contest in Huaying, China / Reuters

A viral message spread on Sina Weibo, China's popular micro-blog, encouraging Chinese female Web users to observe Wednesday's Leap Day as is done in the UK.

Every four years, on February 29th, tradition encourages British women to pursue men, in a reversal of gender norms.

"This day only comes once every four years," reads the Weibo-based message, attempting to provoke a viral outbreak of love confessions, "What are you waiting for?"

This prompt elicited well over 200 thousand messages in less than 24 hours, but as one might expect, not every woman was enthusiastic about the idea.

Username OMY (a Sino-cized phonetic for OMG) wrote, somewhat snarkily: "#Women's Pursuit of Love Day# I don't see anyone confessing love."

That wasn't entirely true. Some love was expressed -- but the "confessions" were equally snarky.

Username 我爱国雄 (I love national heroes) wrote, next to a picture of her and her boyfriend smiling: "#Today it's my turn to say, 'I love you'# Do you feel my deep, deep love? You grinning idiot."

Yesterday, Sina Weibo did successfully affect a role reversal in gender norms among Chinese Netizens. It seems that pushing Chinese women to make the first move took them out of their comfort zone. But the effect of Leap Day on a Chinese woman is perhaps somewhat different from the empowerment of her British counterpart.

With all due respect to the British, Chinese women don't need to beg.

Late last year, TheAtlantic.com published a Chinese rejoinder to Kate Bolick's legendary All the Single Ladies.

Chinese women have a lot of men to choose from, since the One-Child Policy resulted in a gender imbalance, with too many men for each one to find a female partner. There may be a lot of eligible bachelors, but as the article explains, Chinese women are often unimpressed with their options and choose to remain single longer.

The article called Chinese women's philosophy for finding matches "marriage hypergamy." In Chinese, it's called 门当户对 (Pronounced men dang hu dui, literally "matching doors and parallel windows") -- the concept that the only successful marriages are between people of the same socioeconomic and educational standing. Matching looks are, of course, also important.

With a reduced fraction of willing women in the country, some Chinese males put up with a degree of abuse, materialism, and rampant Men Dang Hu Dui, at least from what I've seen and experienced.

The most famous example is the 2010 Chinese TV show If You Are the One, a dating show in which a young woman rejected a suitor who offered her a romantic bike ride with words that soon had the entire People's Republic in stitches: "I'd rather cry in a BMW."

While in China, my closest female friend -- a Beijing native -- used to address her boyfriend as "Smelly." She saw it as a term of endearment. I'm pretty sure he disagreed. And she refused to let him so much as lay a finger on her in public, unless she initiated the advance, in which case he was expected to reciprocate right away.

Out at the mall with another female friend from Shanghai and her boyfriend, she would search for items that pleased her, and with great pride and disdain, would backhand her boyfriend in the chest or shoulder and proclaim, in an unaffected monotone: "Honey, 出钱!" Honey, pay up!

The Sina Weibo Leap Day thread announced that if men refused the advances of Chinese women, the men should offer them a present as consolation.

In a poll on the thread, asking if women would tell that special "him" they love him, the majority of the 4,400 votes by 5am, Beijing time, were in favor of the option: "Can't I just tell every man I love him? That way I'd earn a pretty penny."