China's Lin Dan, Olympic badminton gold-medalist, is in the news again, but not for swinging his racket. He is caught up in a different racket: an extra-marital affair. Adding insult to injury, this athlete indulged himself while his wife endured life as a near-term pregnant woman.
Social media exploded! All over Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent, people decried his outrage as the act of... of... well, there aren't really any words to describe his tumble from grace. Girls and women all across China are now declaring they will never marry because they don't want their husbands to be unfaithful, like that worm of a man called Lin Dan.
And, in their opinion, that is doing worms a disservice.
I have been to several weddings in China – more like wedding receptions the west is familiar with, as they are held in restaurants and hosted by an emcee. I've even had the honor of hosting a wedding. At no time during any of these events did I hear the words standard to weddings elsewhere: “To have and to hold, to keep solely onto each other...” - in other words, to be faithful. And I did not say them at Gary's wedding.
Is monogamy implied in Chinese marriages? And does the concept of 'faithfulness' relate only to sex?
Many Chinese women I know are quite satisfied with their husbands having a sexual relationship with other women, as long as he continues providing for them and their child. In fact, it has long been a standard of Chinese culture that affluent men take a mistress or two: it is a symbol of their wealth. As long as the husband faithfully discharges his duties to his wife, namely that she does not suffer economically or socially, all has been OK, at least on the surface of things. How those wives actually feel about their husbands laying with another woman is obscure, most likely because of 'face' (see previous entry). Being monogamous has only recently become important to China's unions, as far as I can tell.
What is so scary about people's reaction to Lin Dan's 'sidestep' – as such affairs are called in German, is women/girls saying they now do not wish to ever marry. Not that I believe such a ritual is a necessary step for anyone in these days where women have the right to secure employement and housing for themselves – as opposed to past times when women were not allowed a career or to own property.
Except... in China there is an archaic belief that if a woman is not married by the time she is mid-twenties, she is an old maid. And if a man is not married by mid-thirties, there must be something wrong with him. Even in these days, those beliefs persist. If only for convention, marriage seems necessary in China.
However, there is a greater for worry for this country.
As it is, China labors under a gender imbalance. The ratio of men to women in China is: 115 eligible men to 100 eligible women. Sociologists and family planners are looking for solutions to this gender imbalance. Where to find marriageable women for 'leftover' men? And when they marry... IF they marry...
A detriment of the Chinese family planning policy is that, for years, each married couple were permitted only one child. In sociological terms: they weren't producing enough children to replace themselves. While the one-child policy has merit – it controlled population growth in accord with the resources China at the time, it has caused negative population growth, a sociological term that expresses the number of births versus the number of deaths a society.
The Ukraine currently tops the list of countries with negative population growth: scientists project that country losing 28% of its population by the year 2050. Close behind is Japan, the only non-European country on the list, with no increase in births from year to year, and an ever-aging population. They are expected to lose 21% of their population within the next thirty years. (http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/zero.htm)
China's family planning policy has relented to allow each married couple 2 children. That is great foresight and urgently needed, seeing as China's population is aging faster than young marrieds can produce children. Sociologists predict China will be playing catch-up to maintain population growth, if only in order to sustain its elderly citizens.
But family planning policies do nothing for unwed mothers.
Women about to give birth must present a marriage certificate upon admission to the hospital to deliver. Without a marriage certificate, they could (would?) be denied care. At the very least, they would be reported to the authorities, and, according to the family planning policy of their region, fined, possibly up to 2 years' wages. Furthermore, unwed mothers do not receive reimbursement for medical expenses; they must bear the cost of their (and their child's) hospital stay alone, quite possibly with no family support – financial or emotional. And that says nothing about the shame they would incur for being an unwed mother. You can see why not many women would choose that route to motherhood.
Read about single mothers in China here: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/790393.shtml
And now, the faithless act of one public figure has turned women all over China off from marriage. In spite of traditional beliefs that women must be married or dubbed 'old maid' (剩女 - sheng nu). In spite of almost being legally bound to marry in order to have a child.
If social mores remain the same – heavily stimatizing and penalizing unwed mothers, there is a good chance that population growth will screech to a halt. As long as women refuse marriage, there won't be any children born, unless women break the rules and pay that heavy price, not the least of which is being ostracized from family.
Lin Dan might have gained fame for more than winning a few Olympic gold medals. He may well be the catalyst of an evolution in Chinese culture unlike anyone could have foreseen.