It’s no secret that there are more men in China than women – 32 million more men, to be exact. This will undeniably have a huge impact on Chinese society. Essentially this means that there are about 32 million Chinese men that will be unable to find wives, unable to carry on their family name, and have no one to take care of them in their old age.
This problem is made worse by the fact that the majority of these men have no siblings to carry on the family line. For nearly 32 million families, this is the end of the line, barring their pairing up with a divorced or otherwise willing married Chinese woman.
Some predict disaster. A Business Insider piece notes the implications, stating:
“Let’s face it, a nation full of single males is bound to be dangerous and volatile, with a voracious desire to sublimate sexual frustration into bigger and bigger toys: guns and missiles.”
Essentially the piece suggests that the sexual frustrations of unmarried males will cause future international tensions, even war. This is unlikely for two reasons, even if we accept the dubious premise that single Chinese men are going to fit this angry, war-loving caricature.
First, the modern mainland government is the epitome of a bureaucratic technocracy. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the CCP’s national leadership are very calculating folks. While they may pay lip service to angry warmongering, it’s unlikely that they are going to let it drive foreign policy. After all, it’s unlikely that the top leadership themselves have problems attracting women.
Secondly, there are too many places where the United States (the author of the Business Insider article is American) and China need to cooperate in the future. For example, North Korea and climate change are issues that are firmly on the agenda.
Last but not least, even if we assume the government would listen to the demands of these angry bachelors, 32 million men is a drop in the bucket against the hundreds of millions of Chinese businesspeople, entrepreneurs and others that have a stake in peacefully cooperating on the world economy.
Nor is the lack of wives likely to cause organized domestic unrest directed against the government. Presumably the unlucky bachelors will be spread throughout China (perhaps concentrated in rural areas), making it hard to organize an angry single’s brigade to topple the government.
This isn’t to say that the surplus of unmarried men will have no consequences; rather, the unravelling exactly what they are will require a bit more intellectual legwork than Business Insider seems willing to muster.
There are bound to be numerous societal changes as a result of this demographic shift. Here are three tentative predictions:
1) It’s possible that there will be a growing hostility among Chinese men regarding foreigners dating and marrying Chinese women, or possibly even of women going abroad. So far Chinese men seem surprisingly unconcerned with this (albeit still small-scale) phenomenon. As competition for spouses gets hotter, this might turn to anger.
2) The rise in Chinese disposable income and scarcity of marriageable women may converge to increase human trafficking into China. Chinese women are already the targets of bride kidnapping; women are stolen from their home provinces and sold as spouses to men in other parts of the country. As the competition heats up, bride thieves may target more and more foreigners from poorer countries surrounding China.
3) China may see a return to the old tradition of ghost marriage. This practice is harmless in and of itself, unless it turns violent, with women being murdered for the purpose of being sold into ghost marriage.
Readers are free to give their own predictions. In any event, the raw numbers of men unable to live the lifestyle traditionally thought of as normal in China will have long-term (though perhaps subtle) effects on China in the years to come.