Archive for the 'Gender' Category

This One’s for the Hong Kong Ladies

The BBC published an article on 21st February 2013, telling how single women in mainland China, aged 27 and above are considered ‘the leftover women’ – insinuating they are too old to get married and start a family, and in another, subtler, sense that ‘there’s something wrong with them’. The article interestingly interviewed a radio host called Huang Yuanyuan who is about to turn 29, and asks her opinions on this.

The classic “Family vs Career” balance (or imbalance?) is raised as a bigger issue in China and the East than it is in the West. Several factors adopted from the West such as the emancipation of women, gender equality and independent living are becoming increasingly popular in China, but with obvious conflict with the traditional role of women that the majority still adhere to.

We know that China sees time in a different light to the West – dynasties are small epochs of different rulers in Eastern eyes, while in the West we like to categorise our historical periods. Tudor men wore codpieces, Caeser wore robes, and the Georgians wore big fancy white wigs. And that is that. This cannot be more different in China. When asked by Kissinger in 1949, what he thought about the French Revolution, the new PRC Premier Zhou Enlai answered ‘It is too early to tell’. The remarkable reply Enlai gave the impression that the West forgets stuff and changes far too often in history. This was more than a literary bitch-slap: it demonstrated the cool nature of Chinese tradition – they are still living with the same values they had centuries ago, because it is seen to be perfect and self-satisfying, with no need to change.

Therefore one of the biggest concepts in Chinese tradition – family – comes into conflict with these Western ideals.

Being a “sheng nu” or ‘leftover woman’ is a concept I can’t say for sure exists in Hong Kong. 156 years of British rule brought with it 156 years of changing ideas, mirroring the changes in society that the mother country. Hong Kong was seen widely as a beacon of difference in the middle of Asia. Some saw it as better in terms of economics, some as a political haven (as a base for the underground Chinese Communists in the early 21st Century), while others simply as a Western outpost, displaying all things different to China and Asia.

Yet Hong Kongers, were and are, always Chinese. I’ve been here for 7 months now and seen the very, very Chinese traditions that still take place. Hong Kong has one of the highest amounts of public holidays (17) because of its recognition of both Western and Eastern traditions. And family is one of these traditions.

I teach 18 to 21 year olds and like every young man in this age group, still at college, they have problems with the girls. One complains that Hong Kong girls his age are too “Buy my things!” and “I’ll have to ask Daddy first”, while others jsut aren’t interested in finding a boyfriend. Another of the lads put them into 2 categories ‘BOYS BOYS BOYS!” or “WORK WORK WORK!”, which clearly shows they are taking sides in this balance. I have students who have realised what they need to do in a competitive job market very early on – they are always keen to add another certificate into their file, or another student body position to their CV. Then I see students who have no interest in my English activities that we run; sitting outside watching the basketball players, giggling and dressed more in a Japanese/quirky style.

Talks with colleagues have led me to believe that a popular option is for young women to get a job, secure a few promotions before being financially stable, whilst dating and living at home. Then when marriage bells are ringing, move into a flat with her new husband. This is of course a generalisation, as everyone had choices. But with Hong Kong’s limited space, and highly competitive labour market, you can see why this is popular.

All in all, I’d say the Hong Kong equivalent of these ‘Leftover women’ doesn’t actually exist. Everyone here is on the same path, wanting similar end results. Most students I talk to say they would like to visit – not emigrate to – Europe or the USA before coming back to Hong Kong. The property market is an industry with eye-popping amounts of HK$ being circulated in it every day. Land is bought, built on and people live there – a big cycle of space to live. Most young people are waiting to find that special someone, and move out of their parents’ place. Single living in an apartment would be a financial self-slap.

Whatever is happening ‘north of the border’ is hard to see in Hong Kong. Their freedoms, equality and Basic Law are the keystones to Hong Kongers’ happiness in the face of the communist regime in mainland China. I’d say most are proud of their differences, with this example particularly.

Original article by the BBC (21-02-2013):