'Leftover' Women

A look at China's perpetuated gender inequality

Leta Hong Fincher Zed, 174RMB

Think of modern China and you think of newly-gilded men and women striding confidently into the future. But the reality, according to American sociologist Leta Hong Fincher, is that while economic gender gaps are (gradually) closing in most parts of the world, in China they are widening. In her new book, a rigorously-researched investigation into the position of urban women in the country, she gets to the heart of the matter and suggests that women’s rights have rolled back relative to those of men since Mao.

Hong centres on shengnu, the eponymous ‘leftover women’. According to a Xinhua News survey, 90 per cent of Chinese men said women should marry before 27. Those who don’t are often considered damaged goods. Hong also examines property laws, which hold that all marital property pass to the leaseholder – in most cases a man. She concludes that, ‘Chinese women have largely missed out on what is arguably the biggest accumulation of residential real-estate wealth in history,’ valued at 30 trillion USD at the end of 2013.

Hong capably sifts through a panorama of data including interviews, Weibo posts and stats to give a scholarly analysis of how Chinese society is changing for both genders. She examines rising divorce rates (now 33 per cent in big cities), sham marriages and makes you wonder, in a country with one of the highest gender ratio imbalances in the word (118 boys to every 100 girls in 2012), shouldn’t people be more worried about the leftover men?

Hong’s book is a compelling piece of research that puts pay to the rosy assumption that advances in gender equality naturally go hand-in-hand with a rise in economic prosperity.