American author takes aim at Chinese concept of 'Leftover Women'

Joy Chen, a Chinese-American corporate headhunter from Los Angeles, has written "Do Not Marry Before Age 30." It's become a hit in China, where traditional society labels unmarried women in their late 20s "leftover women."

Joy Chen talk to fans from select universities in Beijing. Her book has been a hit with young Chinese women.

Joy Chen’s path to celebrity in China started with a blog she wrote from home in LA. "The blog was all about helping you understand the inside skinny on how to get to the top of global companies," Chen says.

It gained a large following from young Chinese -- so large, that China’s top publisher took notice. "They came over and said, 'the Chinese market especially needs a book to encourage women, because young women today, white-collars, are facing many, many challenges in their lives'," Chen recalls.

Chief among them: being pressured by your family to hurry up and get married. If Chinese women don’t marry by age 30, they’re often labeled "leftover women".

Leta Hong-Fincher is a PhD candidate in sociology at Tsinghua University and author of the forthcoming book "Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China." She says China’s government has popularized the term through the state media.

"It’s basically a scaremongering campaign to try to pressure these women who are educated and so-called “high-quality” to hurry up and get married before they become too old," says Hong-Fincher.

At a recent stop in Beijing, Joy Chen meets with a group of fans. She offers them pointers on how to find Mr. Right. Her advice has made the book one of the best-selling self-help books for weeks, and the state-run All-China Women’s Federation declared Chen "Woman of the Year" last year. Public speaking engagements throughout China soon followed.

"They’ll try to create a smallish event for 200 or 300 and over 1,000 people coming and it’s practically a stampede to get in,” says Chen.

One of those fans is Irina Dai. She works at a state-owned enterprise in Shanghai. She says reading Chen’s book prompted her to get out and meet new friends and to stop giving in to pressure from her family to marry.

"They keep asking me 'Why aren’t you married yet?'" sighs Dai,  "My cousins who are younger than me are already married. And they wonder how come I’m still alone at this age."

Dai is 25 years old. And being called a leftover woman, she says, is no longer something that scares her.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

Joy Chen talk to fans from select universities in Beijing. Her book has been a hit with young Chinese women.

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