Sat, Jul 26, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Unfinished business

A performance in Beijing riffs off the Broadway hit ‘The Vagina Monologues’ to discuss China’s love and dating scene

By Louise Watt  /  AP, Beijing

A bride waits to participate in a staged mass wedding, organised as part of a matchmaking event to inspire singles to get married in Shanghai in May of last year. There are plenty of men to go round among China’s nearly 1.4 billion people but social status can conspire against single professional women, sometimes making it difficult to find a partner.

Photo: Reuters

For many of today’s Chinese youth looking for a partner, love takes second place to parental pressure, moving up the social ladder and a heavy dose of fear drummed into women that they will end up as “leftover.”

These aspects and others relating to love, dating and women’s status in the Middle Kingdom will be examined today in a China-inspired version of The Vagina Monologues, a Broadway hit exploring womanhood that got actresses voicing women’s most intimate feelings to packed theaters.

In The Leftover Monologues, Chinese and foreign women — and a few men — will tell their own stories of searching for a partner, their observations of love and sex and the panic aroused by the thought of becoming a “leftover woman” — defined by a women’s agency linked to the Communist Party as a single urban female over 27.

Wang Anqi is only 23 and already worried.

“People start to use ‘leftover’ to somehow remind us to lower our criteria, be realistic, be practical and go out and find somebody,” said Wang, who will talk about how the term has knocked her self-confidence. “They will say, ‘Time flies, now you think you are excellent, young, you can find any guy you like, but in just a blink you will be 30.”’

The Vagina Monologues has been performed in Chinese universities but its first professional performance in Shanghai was stopped the day before it was to open in 2004, reportedly because of sensitive content, including the word “vagina.”

Its Chinese sister is an amateur production to be held at a central Beijing arts venue; 16 people are to deliver monologues. It is the brainchild of Roseann Lake, an American journalist who has just finished writing a book about love in China.

“I would really like if these monologues somehow forced a reappraisal of Chinese women in society,” Lake said. “They are constantly being tallied, and their value on the marriage market is always fluctuating depending on age and on looks and on color of skin and size of eyes.”


The financial stakes of marrying well have risen following China’s economic boom and the development of its private property market. In decades past, people were assigned residences by their workers’ unit. Now many young people and their parents view marriage as a way to gain something — an apartment, a car or a coveted Beijing residence permit, or hukou, which brings local health and education benefits.

Many young Chinese are only children because of the government’s birth limits, so they also feel the full weight of their parents’ hopes and fears and pressure to deliver a grandchild.

That means many women and some men dread going home for Chinese New Year, the year’s most important holiday, when parents — and sometimes relatives and neighbors — often ask why they aren’t married yet.

Song Yanyan, 35, was surprised this year when after dinner her father’s friend called her over for a talk and, in a grave tone, asked her if she was planning on being single her whole life.

She returned from working in the US a year and a half ago and, after trying to find a boyfriend through her friends and friends’ friends, signed up for an online dating service. Her experience with the service, and her surprise at the customer service center’s offer to find her a man earning more than 500,000 yuan (US$80,000) a year if she paid more than 10,000 RMB (US$1,600), is the subject of her monologue.

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