China Business

China: No Woman, No Cry

China gender imbalance

Much has been written lately regarding China’s gender gap and how by 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women in China. Many are predicting this lack of gender balance will lead to all sorts of social problems, including increased crime and instability. Many are even saying this will lead China to start a war, essentially to give its men something to do and to aid in culling them off.

The writing on this is fascinating.

Foreign Policy Magazine, in its article, It’s Raining Men in China, cites an interesting study linking too many men to increased violence. The Brothers Judd blog says it’s not a matter of whether China will have a war, it is just a question as to whether it will be an internal or an external one. The Magic Statistics Blog [link no longer exists] says this shortage of men “was so predictable” based on China’s One Child Policy and that China’s plan to increase the safety net for its elderly citizens will not reduce the imbalance. The Signal94 Blog tells us to “look for “more aggression from China to draw national attention away from its failed domestic policies.”

Thomas Barnett sees all this as just further fulminating by the China doom and gloom crowd and (without my having any qualifications whatsoever as a demographer), I tend to agree. First off, thirty million really is not all that many when you consider what the number will be in the denominator by then: 1.5 billion. Now I know this 1.5 billion figure includes all ages and not just those readying for marriage, but still. Second, and more importantly, these predictions (like so many predictions) assume everything else will remain the same.  Mutantis mutandi, is what this assumption is called, and it is virtually never true and is extremely unlikely to be true here either. And this is where Barnett steps in. His post is entitled Six Reasons Not to Worry About All Those Chinese Men [link no longer exists] and his six reasons are as follows

First, many of these males are found in rural areas. Those who can make a good life will find a wife locally or import them from elsewhere in Asia. Not an historical first and not that hard.

Second, many of these men leave in undocumented fashion. Baby girls aborted or given up for adoption, but unattached males often sneak out as economic refugees in their early adulthood, which makes males the biggest village export from China right now.

Third, by 2020 China will see 100 million of its citizens travel abroad each year, so personal access to foreign women hardly restricted.

Fourth, the notion of Chinese society casually sending off single sons to war is BS. In China they call it the 4-2-1 problem: 4 grandparents, 2 parents, one son to support all.

Fifth, China’s PLA [Peoples Liberation Army] is moving away from bodies to capital, so little desire there to pack them up for war.

Sixth, the notion of social distress is mitigated by rising incomes, which facilitates for successful males the opportunities described above, and for unsuccessful ones, the chance to emigrate (again, something that happens a lot).

Everything’s gonna be alright,
Everything ‘s gonna be alright,
Everything ‘s gonna be alright,
Everything’s going to be alright.

What do you think?

36 responses to “China: No Woman, No Cry”

  1. Seeing as how the official gender ratio is already 120 to 100, China is already probably in the teens of millions of men who are lonely.
    Those six reasons are just more “green grass and blue skies” from another business writer.
    First: Many of these males are in rural areas, the ones who can make a good life have left because they had the skills, health and strength to get a job. Girls flee the countryside for cities, leaving the LCD boys behind. As for importing them from other parts of Asia, kidnapping is more of the norm and that is done by local officials. Why would a girl leave her poor village at home to live in a poor village in China, never to see her family again according to Chinese custom?
    Second: Contradicts the first. And the migrant workers are looked down upon (hairdressers are an exception). Urban girls won’t touch laborers and laborers sit around the work site and hurl nasty comments at local girls who are with foreigners, old men, or anyone except them.
    Third: These same migrant workers and peasant farmers will be able to afford to travel abroad? To where, North Korea? Don’t read this the wrong way, but China is a buyers market for the women and they are leaving the lowest common denominators (the majority of migrant workers and peasant farmers) behind, most of these guys are really crude.
    Fourth: The notion of teaching your kids to hate certain countries seems pretty absurd too.
    Fifth: The PLA is moving to quality, but the PAP (People’s Armed Police) is getting bigger and bigger, picking up the PLA’s rejects and doing alot of recruiting. Some speculate that the PLA is for defeating a nation’s military and the PAP is for territorial acquisition and suppression of civilians.
    Sixth: Income rise for who? More like widening income gap. And where are the unsuccessful males going to emigrate too? The rest of Asia has alot of men for peasant work as well.
    This Thomas Barnett is full of crap, even on “60 minutes” Leslie Stahl sat down with the head of China’s family planning bureau and that women said that this is a very serious problem for national stability.

  2. I think his fourth point is his strongest point. (2parents/son+4grandparents/son)*30Msons=180M parents and grandparents that are relying on those sons for economic support. Looking at the other options besides killing them off, how else will China use them?

  3. On seeing the “Six Reasons Not to Worry About All Those Chinese Men” ,i can’t help laughting as if i am watching an absurd theatre.Barnett’s view is very ridiculous and fantastic.He didn’t kown about china at foolish he is!when i get to argue with him i found nanheyangrouchuan had strongly disproved him(i guess nanheyangrouchuan is as chinese as me and may like to eat yangrouchuan hehe) ,so here i want to say this is social problem,and it can’t be explained clearly in one day.i have an idea that the government could establish some policies to encourage people to have girl baby instead of boy.

  4. As I write this I am eating pan fried dumplings…
    The one child policy was a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” response and I still kinda think it was a good idea, otherwise China would have 2 billion people and being in a real bind.
    When the Family Planners in Beijing concocted this idea, they were in Beijing. They either never knew about or forgot about the very traditional thinking and behavior of peasants. This problem has been going on since the One Child Policy was initiated. A woman named Ping Fu was sent to prison in the early 80s for reporting her findings about how baby girls were being tossed into rivers and thrown down wells (as China did not have ultrasound back then). The most comical thing about her imprisonment was that she was sent into the countryside to confirm rumors that such mass killings and abandonment of girls was happening.
    Barnett is just a stupid fool when it comes to China. I checked out his company website, he should stick to what he knows.

  5. The Society for Chinese Law at FSU Law school was recently fortunate enough to have two of our professors speak on this issue. Professor Leslie Wexler discussed her article “Allowing Girls to Hold up Half the Sky: Combining Norm Shifting and Economic Incentives to Combat Daughter Discrimination in China,” which has those most amazing virtues in academic articles: brevity, clarity, and proposes pragmatic solutions. The article can be found here:
    Professor Luke, whose academic portfolio is on the tax side, has recently adopted a Chinese baby girl and spoke about that. I wonder if these adopted Chinese daughters will one day be a source of friendship between the US and China. I hope so. I understand that after the US Civil War, there was a genre of “reunification romance” literature that focused on romances between members of the previously warring sides, symbolising healing the scars of the war. It would be nice if we could have a preemptive version of that between the US and China, without the war part.
    Thomas Barnett’s account sounds hopeful. I hope that he’s correct, but it doesn’t hurt to try and correct the disparity. One proposed solution is interesting: polyandry for Chinese women! Good luck with that one!
    Its certainly an interesting situation and I think unprecedented in human history. Many countries have faced the reverse situation, with many fewer men to women as result of war, but I can’t think of a case in which there were dramatically more men than women.

  6. bubu, the Wexler article proposes some ways for the Chinese government to encourage people to have girls instead of boys.

  7. “I wonder if these adopted Chinese daughters will one day be a source of friendship between the US and China.”
    Not really, these girls grow as Americans, even the ones who are sent to Chinese school (a waste of time since they come home from the school to non-chinese speaking parents). Girls from Asian backgrounds have no easier time, and sometimes greater difficulty in China, than white girls.

  8. I’m not sure it will make China more bellicose, but it doesn’t bode particularly well for social stability. The first generation of “only children” has just started to mature, look for spouses, and find jobs. It may take some time to see what the effects of skewed sex ratios in certain areas will be.
    This has been a problem before. Philip Kuhn and others have argued that too many men in China’s rural areas during the 19th century were unable to find wives. (Due to practices of post-birth sex selection, a hypergamous marriage market, elite polygamy, and a tradition that frowned on widow, but not widower, remarriage.) Essentially, a large class of rootless, unmarried, and underemployed males began to emerge in the interior provinces. As a result, a (not inconsiderable) population of men existed outside the family/social system. Some of these “guang’gun” migrated to the coastal cities looking for work and many went even further, forming the first groups of emigrees to the US, Hawaii, and Latin America. Others remained behind and made up the rank-and-file of any number of destabilizing events of the 19th century (Nian Rebellion, Taiping Tianguo, Boxer Rebellion as well as many local cases of unrest.)
    While this group did not CAUSE these events, their presence provided ready kindling when sparks flew.
    As always, there are differences between then and now. The capacity of China’s economy to absorb these men is much greater than before. Education, while still far from free and universal, is far more widely available today than 100 years ago.
    But, broadly speaking, if we look at other unstable societies (For exampe, the US “Wild” West in the 19th century, the American inner city, Gaza, Sanlitun’r on a Saturday night) one common feature is a large group of unmarried and underemployed young men. Trouble seems to follow.
    While the One Child Policy has done much to slow the rate of population growth in the PRC (after the “more people, more power” ethic of the Chairman Mao years), it is still too soon to see the full effects (and side-effects) of the policy. The skewed sex ratios may well prove to be nothing, but history suggests it is a situation that bears watching.

  9. nanheyangrouchuan,
    I actually agree that many “ABCs” or otherwise Americanized Chinese have a difficult time with Chinese culture and the language. I would not go so far as to say that Chinese language schools are useless, but the main problem is that they learn bad accents from their classmates and the amount of instruction is insufficient. If a version of the American schools in Taiwan and China or truly bilingual preschools, kindergartens, and elementary schools were introduced on wide scale (there are some in New York, for example), I think that they would produce excellent Chinese speakers just as they produce excellent English speakers in Taiwan and Latin America.
    But I think they could be a source of friendship between the two countries regardless of the girls’ proficiency in Chinese language and their familiarity with Chinese culture. They are a powerful symbol of Americans’ generousity and love towards Chinese, and only the harshest nationalist could completely dismiss it. On the other hand, really bitter Chinese nationalists probably see it as another example of Chinese humiliation at the hands of foreigners.
    I also think it is kind of unfair that Chinese-Americans are expected to know Chinese. No one has ever acted surprised that I can’t speak Gaelic or Italian. I think it may derive from the Chinese cultural sense of identity, that Chinese is an essential part of being Chinese, an advantage to non-Chinese Chinese speakers, but a disadvantage to ethnically Chinese non-Chinese speakers.

  10. nanheyangrochuan —
    1. I am quite sure there are tens of millons of lonely men in China. There are tens of millions of lonely men in the United States too.
    2. Barnett is not a business writer. He’s a Harvard political science Ph.d and a former prof at the Naval War Colleg.
    3. Of course many of these males are in rural areas. Many are also in urban areas. In any event, there are plenty of places in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, North Korea, etc., much poorer than China.
    4. Doesn’t matter which men travel abroad. If any do, that frees up women.
    5. Teaching “your kids to hate certain countries” may be absurd, but it is certainly a lot more common than killing off one’s own.
    6. The rising income will eventually “trickle down.” It has to. Give it time.
    7. You say “Barnett is full of crap,” yet I cannot remember you even once taking a positive position on China. I trust Barnett’s objectivity on China much more than I trust yours. And again, I will note he is not a businessperson.

  11. Bubu —
    Thanks for checking in.
    Which is more important here, understanding China, or understanding history and social change? With which of the reasons did you disagree and why?

  12. Bart —
    I didn’t know you had a blog!! I will have to check it out.
    Barnett’s view is optomistic and the reason I like it is because I am of the view that most things self correct. One gets of that view with age. I have lived through the date when many were saying we would have run out of oil, food, water and cool air and/or there would be so many of us we could not move. I just find gloom and doom predictions of any sort typically fail on two major points. They almost always assume things will continue at the very same pace as in the past and that humans will think of absolutely nothing to change things.
    Your idea of adoptees bridging the gaps between the US and China is rather far fetched. First off, what makes you think the adoptees would be accepted as “bridgees” by either side? Secondly, even if they were, the numbers just aren’t there.

  13. nanheyangrouchuan —
    You are right re Chinese-Americans in China. Same is true of Korean-Americans in Korea. Probably true of Vietnamese-Americans in Vietnam, though I do not know that.

  14. Jeremiah —
    Let’s take the examples you mention.
    1. The US “Wild” West in the 19th century. Balance was achieved.
    2. The American inner city. I do not think there is an imbalance in the sexes there.
    3. Gaza. Do Gaza’s problems really stem from this or from their lack of a strongman that seems to be necessary to keep down the “Arab street.”
    4. Sanlitun’r no longer exists and so balance has been achieved.
    I agree violence overwhelmingly comes from men, but I am not so sure that violence stems from a lack of women.

  15. “I trust Barnett’s objectivity on China much more than I trust yours.”
    And yet the post of his that you pick out is so, so off base. The chinese gov’t fears its masses of poor, desperate, lonely men and yet Barnett does not?
    “1. I am quite sure there are tens of millons of lonely men in China. There are tens of millions of lonely men in the United States too.”
    What percentage are elderly and children? When I say “lonely” I don’t mean dateless for a couple of months, I am talking no female affection what so ever their entire lives except from their mom, aunts and grandma…yet the urges are still there. Women in China fear of traveling alone because of kidnapping gangs. SE Asian newspapers run ads for housekeeping and factory jobs in China, when the women from these countries show up at border towns, they are kidnapped and wake up deep in China and married to a local boss’s son. This has become a very serious diplomatic problem for China (among other diplomatic problems).

  16. @Jeremiah: “While this group did not CAUSE these events, their presence provided ready kindling when sparks flew.”
    That’s practically a quote from Valerie Hudson’s paper, which is the one that FP and Will Hutton have referenced in talking about this stuff. Personally I’m not convinced by her thesis that guangguns increase the prospect of instability; she gives the Nian Rebellion as her example of what happens when all these bare branches are lying around. But look at the context: post-Opium War, currency depreciation, unparalleled ecological disasters, famine and several other rebellions running near concurrently. Given all this, who is to say that married men would be any less likely to join a rebel army in order to feed and shelter their wife and children? Has anyone looked for counterfactual examples from these rebellions?
    Interestingly enough, after Hudson and den Boer say “when the sparks begin to fly, those bare
    branches provide kindling sufficient to turn the sparks into a fire larger and more dangerous than otherwise”, they later say this:
    “There is only one short-term strategy for dealing with a serious bare-branch
    problem: Reduce their numbers. There are several traditional ways to do so:
    Fight them, encourage their self-destruction, or export them… Furthermore, though economic prosperity is useful in placating disgruntled members of society, including bare branches,
    no amount of wealth will turn surplus males into nonsurplus males.”
    To extend their analogy further, how about reducing the sparks as another possible solution? And what is it with this behavioral determinism that no amount of wealth or other incentives will satiate these fiends? There are things about this study that bother me.

  17. @nanheyangrouchuan: “The chinese gov’t fears its masses of poor, desperate, lonely men and yet Barnett does not?”
    Nan, I think both of us would agree there are alot of things that the Chinese government gets unnecessarily paranoid about. Why can’t this be one of them? And where is it written that the PRC is afraid of them anyway? Concerned, sure, but I don’t know about fear.
    This ain’t late Qing China, and I think Barnett is right for at least being skeptical that the analogy applies.

  18. ky,
    Actually not as ridiculous as it sounds. Matthew Sommer, a professor of history at Stanford, researches issues of law and gender during the Qing period. He argues that because of the oversupply of men and the lack of marriageable women in poor areas, new family strategies emerged. One was the practice of polyandry (one woman, a few men) which could take any number of forms from “wife pimping” to actual households with more than one man sharing one “wife.” (See Making Sex Work: Polyandry as a Survival Strategy in Qing Dynasty China,) In Sommer’s first book, Sex and Law in the Qing, he also discusses the formation of homosocial and homosexual (sometimes lifelong) relationships among guang’gun. Relationships that then became the focus of some anxiety from officials and “established” society.

  19. nanheyangrouchuan —
    The Chinese government fears many things, including democracy. So what?
    Of course rape is a problem in China, but what’s that got to do with the post?

  20. “And what is it with this behavioral determinism that no amount of wealth or other incentives will satiate these fiends?”
    Wealth would probably be the biggest incentive, followed by respect. How many times have you listened to a local news broadcast and counted the number of times “tu ren” (“dirt people” for CLB) was spoken by the newscaster? Yes, CLB, that is what urbanized Chinese call their working poor/rural people and they say it without flinching or embarrassment. “Potato” is another slander. Some people are proud to be rednecks, no one is proud to be dirt.
    But thanks to “GDP at all costs” and all that this approach entails, these tens of millions of lonely men will have no realistic chance at wealth, comfort or respect. So why not beat down some rich guy or foreigner for their money? Chances are that money was made and their lifestyle is supported by the aching back, sore muscles and empty stomach of a lonely potato.

  21. @Nan: “I am talking no female affection what so ever their entire lives except from their mom, aunts and grandma…yet the urges are still there.”
    This sounds rather implausible. That would mean that every single female in China ends up monogamous to one man, leaving 30 million guys with absolutely no attention at anytime. Somehow I don’t believe that thousands of Chinese prostitutes will all suddenly become housewives, or that women won’t sleep around. I don’t deny that these guys will want to get laid, and that you’ll get more gangs of angry young men. But you could easily posit that this will result in higher crime rates and an increased position of power for women. But Hudson and Den Boer believe women are powerless in Asia and these young men will necessarily aggregate into violent organizations. I believe the first is wrong and the second unsubstantiated.

  22. Easy there folks,
    I’m not predicting catastrophe here and I was very careful to qualify my argument considerably in terms of place and time. I was merely giving a historical example. I haven’t read the Hudson paper, I was actually riffing on Kuhn & Mann-Jones in my argument. Is Hudson making this argument about today and referencing the Qing has her proof? If so, then, as I qualified in my own comment, there are significant differences. Speaking only of the late-Qing for a moment, I am convinced however that one, of many factors, in Qing instability was the large (mostly male) floating population. I see it in my own research and certainly the Qing government was concerned–sometimes to the point of obsession.
    Now, as for today, I think the jury is still out. It’s a situation that should be watched carefully. As Dan noted, these situations sometimes do resolve themselves. Perhaps that is the case here. I just think it is too early to tell.

  23. nanheyangrouchuan —
    Wow, I just never knew. Thanks so much for your enlightening pearls of wisdom.
    On a more serious note, nearly every large country of which I am aware has the same urban rural dichotomy. The US and Russia certainly do. I am well aware of the disdain with which rural Chinese are held by urban Chinese (how could I possibly not be?). But again, I do not think this disdain is going to have any real impact one way or the other on gender imbalance.

  24. Jeremiah —
    I definitely see cause for concern and I definitely think it is too early to tell. That was really the point. To get people away from the idea that this problem is fixed and definite.

  25. @ Dave:
    Beyond the occasional use of a prostitute to satisfy needs, people usually do look to settle down. And even if a guy doesn’t look to settle down, what kind of quality of life will he experience when all the joy he can get is the county hooker?

  26. nanheyangrouchuan
    If you look through enough of his blog, you’ll find that Barnett has visited China more than once to talk with members of the Chinese government. Say what you will about his thought processes, he isn’t necessarily any more ignorant than your own government (I’m assuming you’re mainland chinese by your email address).

  27. Oops, just saw your comments on another thread here, you aren’t from China (at least, you’re no longer living there). My apologies.

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