CHINA'S older unmarried women - disparagingly called "leftover" at age 27 - get a lot of attention, but there are far more older single men. If they have money, they're "golden bachelors." Tan Weiyun reports.
Alex Zhu hates to be called a "leftover man" (sheng nan 剩男), a disparaging term for single men aged from 28 to more than 40. Many are eager to marry and start a family, but can't afford wedlock. Some are waiting for the right woman.
The scornful term "leftover" is more often associated with single women age 27 and older - they also come in for names like "moldy tofu" - and it's worse for women because even "leftover" men want younger women to bear a child.
But these unwed men are also called "bare branches," so far unable to perform the highest filial duty of providing a son and heir.
"I'm not left over. Yes, I'm desperate for a happy marriage and kids of my own, and I've got great pressure from parents, but I won't rush into marriage until I find the right one I truly love and respect," says the 29-year-old civil servant in Minhang District. "In addition, I really enjoy my single life now."
China's male preference and family planning policy result in a skewed birth ratio of around 118 males for every 100 females, according to China's sixth and latest census figures. That has grave implications for the shrinking labor pool, social services and care for the elderly, growth of a consumer middle class - and the marriage prospects of tens of millions of men who cannot find a wife.
As a matter of fact, Zhu is one of 12 million unmarried men aged from 29 to 39 in China, according to census.
It also reports there are 5.82 million single women in the same age range.
According to the census, every 136 men for 100 women born after 1980 are unmarried. In the unmarried group born between 1970 to 1980, there are 206 men for every 100 women.
The situation will be particularly acute in the countryside, but it's difficult in prosperous urban areas as well where men are expected to provide a house, car and have a steady, well-paying job.
Zhu has had several relationships, including with a university student, but nothing worked out. "I always believe there is someone waiting for me," he says.
He hopes to marry before he's 30 years old. "But if I can't, I will never lower my standards for a happy married life."
Last week the spotlight was on the plight of single men, who are often overlooked.
An online survey by popular matchmaking website (www.jiayuan.com) got responses from more than 56,000 single males across the country, mostly born in the 1970s and 1980s and most holding university degrees.
Their situation appears much worse than that of women.
According to the survey, 31 percent of men who filled in a questionnaire called themselves "leftover."
In Shanghai, about 33.2 percent of the polled single men say they are single, the fifth-highest number in the country, according to survey. The first, with highest number of single men, is the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region where 35 percent of respondents said they were single.
According to the survey, Shanghai single men are the oldest in the nation, with an average age of 34.
"Shanghai's fast pace, great work pressure and demanding mothers-in-law, who have extremely high income expectations for potential husbands, have forced these single men to marry at older ages," says Zhang Jiarui, a marriage expert with the website.
According to the online survey, among these older single men nationwide, 55 percent are office workers, while 36 percent are middle or senior management officials. Around 30 percent say they earn less than 2,000 yuan (US$319) per month, while 16 percent say they have no income.
Around 49 percent of respondents say they don't have a car or own an apartment. Sixty-five percent they are "indoor guys" who prefer staying home playing video games or surfing the Internet instead of socializing.
"Are you aware of how much it costs to date a girl? I mean a serious date that might lead to a marriage?" says Chen Weibing, 28, an ordinary office worker, who earns around 7,000 yuan a month.
Chen says dating costs represent more than one-third of his salary, including good dinners, movies, night life and transport, to say nothing of the various gifts a young woman expects.
"It's hard for me to save money for the future," Chen says. "But the tricky part is that no girl will marry me if I don't pay for dates and gifts, but if I keep paying out like this, I won't have money to marry."
Economics is the major reason otherwise eligible bachelors are single. In China, most women want their life partners to be the bread earners, the ones they can look up to and depend upon. By tradition, women are supposed to "marry up," and men are supposed to "marry down," in terms of spousal education, income and resources.
Single children who are urban women are typically well educated with a relatively good income.
"But these women will have higher expectations for their future husbands. Ordinary men won't meet their standards, while a single man with an apartment and car will prefer younger and prettier girls who can be handled more easily," bachelor Chen says.
Sociologist Gu Xiaoming from Fudan University says the single-male problem is not simply one of gender difference and cultural expectations. "It's also a matter of the social security system," he says. "A healthy society should guarantee that a young man who reaches marriage age has a certain economic capacity to support a family, such as being able to purchase a small apartment.
"In addition, it's still not fair to Chinese women. They work to earn money like their husbands, while they have to give birth, raise the children and take care of the family," he says. "Our government should do more to improve the birth policy, accelerate urbanization, encourage population migration to different urban centers, and shake up the current social class structure."
So-called "leftover" men, such as 34-year-old Zheng Zhe, is considered a good catch and no one is calling him "moldy tofu," a term reserved exclusively for women. He owns two houses and he share's Chen's sexist views on the kind of woman he wants.
"I won't be considering 'leftover' women. They are either too eager for marriage or they have eccentric dispositions. Otherwise, why are they 'left over'?" Zheng asks.
Zheng earns a high salary at an IT company. He too rejects the "leftover" label and says he is confident about finding his other half.
"I'm not worried at all. On one hand, I'm struggling hard to say 'goodbye' to my single life, but on the other hand, I enjoy my current status," he says.
Like many other bachelors, Zheng is under great pressure from his parents and friends. Parents lose "face" of their children are not married.
"I'm working hard to change myself for the better," he says, adding that he has started to jog and go swimming. So far he has lost 15 kilos, learned to cook and received a junior chef's certificate. "I've gained great pleasure from these things, things that make me better," he says.
Earlier this year Zheng joined "Date on Saturday," a TV matchmaking show for Shanghai singles. The girl he liked didn't choose him. "But I asked her out several times after the show and she was kind of attracted," he says. "Then I began to feel we were not suited and had different views of marriage and life, so I ended it."
A month ago, Zheng applied for another TV matchmaking show in Jiangsu Province and passed the screening interview. "These shows open a door for people like me. I'll have more choices, more chances to meet girls and a bigger chance to find my Ms Right," he says.
Since that show, his e-mail has been flooded to overflowing with letters from young women who watched the show. Two letters were forwarded to his physical address by the show's director, both of them handwritten by young women's parents. They were afraid letters would be lost in the mail, so they took the bus to the TV station, found the director and asked him to forward the letters to Zheng.
"How powerful and yet pathetic parental love is! I kind of begin to understand my parents," he says. "My biggest New Year's wish in 2013 is to find my true love and walk to the altar."
The traditional view on marriage among Chinese parents is that a single woman over 30 is a loser, "while a single man over 30 with a successful career is a prime candidate. But if he's 35 and still single, then the pressure starts to mount," says Lu Quan, a father of a 34-year-old son who's still single.
Lawyer William Wang, 44, is a "golden bachelor," with properties, cars and a high income.
"It's not that I enjoy being alone, but I can't find the right person," Wang says. "I've thought it through - if I can't find her, I'd rather stay single all my life."
His family, friends and colleagues have introduced dozens of girls to him, but no one satisfies him.
"Sometimes, when I see my friends in affectionate relationships, I envy them," Wang says. "But just a little."
Wang is registered on popular matchmaking websites and is receiving love letters. "But there are lots of frauds on websites, and you have to keep a keen eye for fakes," he says.
He once invited out a girl he met online. She had claimed to be a Peking University graduate, but when Wang asked who the head of the university was, she had no idea and gave herself away.
An agency even asked him to pay 60,000 yuan (US$9,570) first and guaranteed that they would help Wang find the girl. "I told them money was not a problem, but we should sign a contract first. The agency refused to sign," the lawyer says.
But in most cases, he admits he just didn't feel the chemistry. "I won't compromise. I long for love and believe everyone does, no matter how old they area. Young men express passion and love directly but mature men, know how to conceal their feelings. That doesn't men they don't know how to love," Wang says.