Geopolitics

Too Old At 27: The Extraordinary Pressures On Asian Women

Beyond her late 20s, a woman in Asia faces huge hurdles in finding a husband. It's especially hard if she is educated and has a career.

DJ and entertainer Cheuk Wan-Chi
DJ and entertainer Cheuk Wan-Chi
Julie Zaugg

HONG KONG — Cheuk Wan-Chi is in a hurry. She has just finished a business meeting in Soho, the trendy district of Hong Kong, and has another in an hour. Looking impeccable with red lipstick and a white dress, she sits down and props a pair of gold-colored high-heeled shoes on the table.

This 36-year-old DJ, writer, actress and filmmaker is the epitome of an accomplished businesswoman. In these past two years she has published five books, directed a movie and performed in her own comedy show. She is about to go on vacation in Taiwan with some girlfriends, and then travel to Peru alone.

Yet this short brunette hides a secret. "I feel alone," she confides in her beautiful deep voice. "After 30, I am considered a Sheng-nu (a remnant of a woman, in Mandarin), since I am not married."

Cheuk Wan-Chi is part of a generation of educated women who are very successful, but struggle to find a mate. The women often live in Chinese mega-cities, in Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. They are doctors, lawyers, stock brokers; and they are becoming more and more numerous.

In China, the average age of marriage has risen from 19 in 1950 to 27 years old today. In 2007, the Chinese government officially introduced the term Sheng-nu in its lexicon to describe single women over the age of 27.

The phenomena has become so common that it is the subject of a Chinese television series, "Will You Marry Me and My Family?" Singapore has a government agency, the Social Development Network, that helps educated single men and women find partners. Some Koreans even hold ceremonies — named bihonshik — where they wear long white dresses and celebrate bachelorhood.

If these accomplished women find it hard to stay single, it is because they feel the burden of a patriarchal society that values youth above all else. "Age is very important in Asia," says Mein Lin, a resident of Hong Kong who runs a dating agency. "Men want younger women, whom they believe are more docile and admiring. At 25, they want someone who is 22, at 35, they look for someone who is 28, and at 40, they prefer women who are 31. After 35, women no longer exist."

University degrees and professional accomplishment frightens men as well. "They are intimidated by strong women who earn more than them or have more advanced careers," continues Mei Lin.

Cheuk Wan-Chi agrees, noting that in Asia, men traditionally support women. "When the positions are switched, they panic," she says. "One of my boyfriends left me with a note accusing me of being too smart."

This phenomenon is also accentuated by the rise of women with higher education. In Hong Kong, women represent 53% of students. In China, women hold 19% of CEO positions. "This evolution has turned traditional marriage practices in Asia upside down," says Joy Chen, a Chinese-American who wrote the book Do Not Marry Before Age 30.

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The logic is as follows: A man of category A, with a university diploma, will marry a woman of category B, with a high school education; a category B man will marry a woman in category C, with a primary education, and a C man will marry a D woman, who has no education at all. This leaves women in category A and men in category D without partners.

By choice

Yet for a growing number of Sheng-nu, being single is a choice. "In Asia, sharing tasks is still not a reality: Women are expected to clean, cook, and take care of children, even if they are employed," explains Sandy To, a sociologist at the University of Hong Kong who has studied the Sheng-nu phenomenon. "Some prefer being single to this kind of relationship."

At the same, says author Chen, modern women have too many expectations. "They want a millionaire, who is also romantic, handsome and faithful," she sighs.

A video named "No House, No Car" published on Youku, the Chinese version of YouTube, went viral in 2011. "If you don't have a house, if you don't have a car, get lost, you don't interest me," sings a group of women.

A study published last week showed that Chinese women expect a partner who earns at least 6701 RMB per month ($1,025 dollars), while the average salary of Chinese men is only 2808 RMB ($429).

Testing the market

Yet in Asia, marrying later — whether by choice or not — brings its share of problems. "The pressure is constant: parents that organize dates with the sons of their acquaintances, friends who constantly ask when you're going to get married, colleagues who judge you," says Sandy To.

In China, men have started to advertise their time online: For $5 an hour they play the role of a loving boyfriend. Each weekend, the People's Park in Shanghai becomes a market for single men and women. Dozens of women stroll with their daughters' portraits and CVs, hoping to find them husbands.

"For centuries, if a woman in Asia was not married, she had no identity, no chance of survival," explains Joy Chen. "This shows the pressure applied by parents. They consider not having a son-in-law or grandchildren shameful."

Moreover, in a society without social services, parents count on their children or grandchildren for support in their old age. Cheuk Wan-Chi finds it difficult to convince her parents and grandmother, with whom she lives, that her choice is the right one.

"My mother fell in love with my father when she was 20 because he had a nice motorcycle, and my grandmother had three children with a man she didn't love," she says. "How am I supposed to explain to them that I prefer to stay single until I meet the right man?"

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Iran's hard line on nuclear talks keeps getting harder

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear power watchdog, reported yesterday that Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant. It’s just the latest sign, write Kayhan London’s Ahmad Ra'fat and Hamed Mohammadi, that the talks that reopened this week on Iran’s nuclear program have slim chances of forging a deal:

After a four-month hiatus, Iran has resumed talks on its nuclear program with other signatory countries of the suspended, multilateral pact of 2015. These are Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, and the European Union (EU). The talks that began this week in Vienna exclude the United States, an original signatory that withdrew from the pact in 2018 — and while the U.S. administration under President Joe Biden says it favors a deal, it is only indirectly involved, through the EU.

Prospects for this round remain dim, given Iran's preconditions and the stated objectives of Western states. The Iranian deputy-foreign minister, Ali Baqeri-Kani, said on a recent trip to several EU states that Iran would only resume talks to discuss ending sanctions on it, and there would be no discussions for a nuclear agreement. He was suggesting that an end to all sanctions — whether for Tehran's nuclear program, rights violations or terrorism abroad — was the central condition for more talks.

It was also reported Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear power watchdog, that Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant.

Likewise, a recent and fruitless trip to Tehran by IAEA head Rafael Grossi will not help. Grossi could not persuade Iran to allow renewed IAEA inspections of its atomic sites, which will impede an agreement in Vienna. The three European signatory powers have already criticized Iran's refusal to open up its sites, though Iranian officials dispute that interpretation, saying an agreement was reached "in principle" to resolve "technical" issues.

The latest report by the IAEA chief to its governing board, currently meeting in Vienna, says Iran has augmented its enriched uranium reserves (of potential use in weapon-making) to 2,489 kilograms. The European countries say there is no reason for Iran enriching uranium to 20% and 60% levels, without military objectives. They are also concerned with Iran's continued renovation and updating of centrifuges.

U.S. military and diplomatic officials have warned that the United States is ready to give Iran a firm response if it pursues its furtive activities and refuses to negotiate in Vienna. In the Middle East, Israeli officials alternately say they could accept a pact that blocks Iran's nuclear weaponization and warn Israel will strike Iran, if this turns out to not be possible.

Iran promised Grossi last September that it would repair IAEA cameras at its nuclear installations, thus evading a rebuke by the IAEA governing board. This time, it seems to be playing hardball. It has not only banned access to the Tesa complex outside Tehran, of interest to the IAEA, but insisted the international agency must condemn Israel's suspected sabotage of Iranian installations, and desist any investigation into the sources of uranium traces found at undeclared installations in Iran.

Iran also wants the Biden administration not just to lift all sanctions, but bind future administrations to a new pact. Does it really imagine that a U.S. president is willing or empowered to commit his successors to a pact?

Iran has also complained about the damages it suffered for the non-implementation of the 2015 pact. All these suggest it doesn't really want a practical agreement with the West.

As Western powers intermittently threaten it with an "alternative" response, at least part of Iran's top leadership is already envisaging turning the country into a militarized bunker to safeguard the regime. This means spending more on missiles and arms for proxy militias in the region — which are precisely the other issues the West is keen to discuss, to Iran's utter dismay.

Amid reports of the "strategic" hoarding of basic goods and multiple military maneuvers, are Iran's rulers preparing themselves for a state of crisis or utter calamity? In case of any attack, could they count on the backing of a nation they have mistreated and impoverished over decades?

Ahmad Ra'fat and Hamed Mohammadi / Kayhan-London

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

A “pro-life” activist in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C, as the abortion battle heats up in the United-States — Photo: Stefani Reynolds/CNP/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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