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China's Missing Girls

1:05 PM, Jul 9, 2007 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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On July 2nd, the Guizhou Metropolis News reported the results of a survey conducted in a "bachelors' village" located in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou. In this village of just over 2,100 people there are more than 290 bachelors and, of the 60 single women over the age of 20, all had left for jobs elsewhere.

Republished by a number of Chinese media outlets and websites, the report details how the gender imbalance has resulted in cases of wife-snatching, wife-sharing, and wife-buying:

Last year a villager spent more than 6,000 yuan (US$789.48) to purchase a wife in the western part of Guizhou. The woman ran away only 10 days after arriving. And to this day villagers are still talking about how a 26-year-old man once married a 46-year-old woman and was nonetheless the envy of all the single men in the village.

The report also warns of a "negative social and moral impact" unless the "wife shortage" is stemmed.

Even before the appearance of the July 2nd article, Chinese media had been sounding the alarm over the worsening situation. This past January, for example, it was reported that in one community in the southern island of Hainan, fully 200 of the 260 single adults were men.

China began enforcing its one-child policy in the early 1980s. In a patriarchal society where boys carry on the family name and are regarded as insurance against old age, parents--especially those in the countryside--have a disincentive to bear and keep female infants. By some estimates, gender-based abortions and female infanticide are responsible for 60 million missing girls in China.

As this disproportionately male generation reaches marriageable age, the combined effects of the one-child policy and the attractiveness for young women of employment opportunities in urban areas have made "bachelors' villages" a growing problem.

Last Friday People's Daily, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, ran an article titled "Addressing the ‘Gender Imbalance' is a Task which Brooks No Delay." Citing official statistics, the report states that there are 37 million more men than women in China, and for the under-fifteen demographic group there are 18 million more males than females. The report went on to say that the gender imbalance has triggered serious crimes and social problems, such as bride-buying, kidnapping, and forced prostitution.

The July 2nd story has generated considerable attention in Chinese cyberspace. A posting on the website of the influential Southern Metropolis Daily invokes the Chinese classic Outlaws of the Marshes. Readers are reminded that the overwhelming majority of the novel's 108 desperados were unattached men who defied imperial authority because they felt they had nothing to lose.