The high number of male births in China relative to female birth has resulted in a shortage of brides in China. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences one in five young men will be brideless in the not to distant future. Thanks to a preference for boys and selective abortions, it is estimated that one million Chinese men will reach marriageable age every year and be unable to find a wife. Studies indicate that one in ten to one in six men — a number equivalent to the entire population of Canada — will never get married and that unmarried men between 20 and 44 already outnumber their female counterparts 2 to 1. See PREFERENCE FOR BOYS

At the peak of the gender imbalance in 2004, 121 boys were born in China for every 100 girls, according to Chinese population figures. The 2005 national census counted 142 boys born for every 100 girls in Henan Province near Beijing, one of the widest gender disparities in China. China’s National Bureau of Statistics said men outnumbered women by almost 34 million in 2018 (China has a population of about 1.4 billion). There were 113.5 men for every 100 women in China, according to figures published by the World Economic Forum in 2016. “The gender imbalance is going to be a very major problem,” Steve Tsang, a professor of contemporary Chinese studies at the University of Nottingham, told The Guardian. “We are talking about between 20 million and 30 million young men who are not going to be able to find a wife. That creates social problems and that creates a huge number of people who are frustrated. History showed that countries with a very large number of unmarried men of military age were more likely to pursue aggressive, militarist foreign policy initiatives. [Source: Tom Phillips, The Guardian, October 29, 2015; Jiayun Feng, SUP China, June 3, 2020]

In 2020 China was estimated to have 24 million single men of marrying age unable to find wives. “This situation could get even worse, with the number women between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-one expected to decline by 40 percent between 2015 and 2025. Some have described the problem as a ticking “bachelor bomb.” Studies indicate that the older a man gets the less likely he is to get married. [Source: Anthony Fensom, National Interest, September 16, 2019]

Bachelors unable to find marriage partners in China are called “bare branches” because they don't bear fruit and signify the death of the family tree. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences described the issue as the most serious demographic challenge for China. Senior Communist officials have described the problem as a potential cause of crime and social unrest and instability. A computer salesman told Time, “Every girl I meet has already had several marriage offers.” Already "bachelor villages," inhabited primarily by men, are scattered in some of China's poorer regions, particularly in northern Shaanxi province, and in Ningxi and Gaungxi provinces.

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on the One Child Policy Wikipedia ; Family Planning in China ; Christian Science Monitor article on Too Many Boys ; National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China; Trends in Chinese Demography ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Institute of Population and Labor Economics; Marriage: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinatown ConnectionChinatown Connection ; Travel China Guide ; Agate Travel : Dating Chinatown Connection Chinatown Connection ; Wedding Wedding Customs ; Divorce: Divorces in the 1990s ; Marriage and Divorce Laws in China International Family Law ; Foreigners and divorces in China

Unmarried Men in China

According to a 2012 report by the All-China Women's Federation, 90 percent of all unmarried people between 28 and 49 in some place in China are male. According to an article in the Global Times, China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission has found that problems such as forced prostitution, abductions and trafficking of women and children are highest in places where the sex ratio is skewed against men.

The shortage of men in China due to sex-selected abortions and other reasons theoretically makes it easier for women to be choosy and requires men to work harder. Chen Kiaomin, director of the Women’s Studies Center at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law told the Times, “In the past people were introduced by relatives, or if they dated a date meant going to a park, Now you have to spend money in restaurants and cafes.”

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “It's a tough, competitive life for men in China these days. Author Mara Hvistendahl reports in her book, "Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men" that by late 2020, 15 percent (or roughly one in six) Chinese men of marriageable age will be unable to find a bride. She predicts that China will see an increase in what's already happening in Taiwan and South Korea, where men doomed to bachelorhood as a result of gender imbalance are boarding planes to Vietnam. Roughly $10,000 covers their flight, room and board, and the price of a Vietnamese wife, according to Hvistendahl, and this practice has become so common that the imported wives "get a booklet translated into Vietnamese explaining their rights when they get married at the Taiwanese Consulate." [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

While the most disadvantaged are the country's poor male farmers, who now live at society's rock bottom in rural villages devoid of women their age (as females tend to leave in search of better jobs and marriage prospects), the marriage challenge is rippling its way up through the classes. It is manifested most clearly in China's real estate market, where — given the highly desirable nature of property — men are pouring all their savings as a means of improving their chances of finding Mrs. Right, or any Mrs. for that matter. "Mathematically, they can't get married," says Wei Zhang, a fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington and as a professor at Peking University. referring to younger Chinese men and their double burden of financial demands and the shortage of available women to marry. With Columbia University economist Shang-Jin Wei, he has published several studies on China's economic growth, including one that shows how 30 to 48 percent (or $8 trillion worth) of the real estate appreciation in 35 major Chinese cities is directly correlated with China's sex-ratio imbalance and a man's need to acquire wealth (property) in order to attract a wife.

Nicholas Eberstad wrote in Far Eastern Economic Review, “China is not the only country in the modern world to report unnatural sex ratios at birth; South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and parts of northern India are places where SRBs have risen above 108 in recent years. In all of these settings, the strange imbalances appear to be due to a confluence of three factors: an overpowering preference for sons; low or sub-replacement fertility levels (making the gender outcome of each birth more significant); and the availability of gender determination technologies like ultrasound, which facilitates widespread sex-selective abortion. In China today, however, SRB disparities are more extreme than in any other country on earth — and there is little doubt the imbalances are largely due to the One Child Policy. Professor Zeng of Peking University has suggested that the policy may be responsible for as much as 10 points in China's SRB.” [Source: Nicholas Eberstad, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2009]

Calculations by Professor Zeng and his colleagues point to the magnitude of the problem. In 2009 roughly 5 percent of Chinese men in their late 30s had never married. By 2020, that fraction could exceed 15 percent, and may reach 25 percent by 2040. The situation will be more extreme in the countryside, since rural men are more likely to lose out to more affluent and educated urban suitors in the national marriage race. By these same calculations, in 2020 about 20 percent of China's rural men between the ages of 35 to 44 will never have taken a bride, and the proportion rises above 30 percent by 2040. How will Chinese government and society function in the face of this rising tide of unmarriageable young men, an able-bodied but very likely disaffected cadre drawn disproportionately from the countryside and the urban poor? Speculating about this is almost like imagining the end to a science fiction story — the drama takes us into a universe whose coordinates are far removed from the world we know. Even so, what may be hardest of all to imagine is that at the end of the day, this profound demographic disjuncture would leave China's economy, society and polity altogether unaffected.

Consequences of the Bride Shortage in China


Demographers say the bride shortage might lead to more prostitution, an increase in bride sales, bigamy, forced marriages, and mass migrations of men across China's borders in search of women. A reports in Science magazine warned of an "army of bachelors" that could cause "social perils and all sorts of factors of instability.' Roseann Lake wrote in, China's surplus of men "is unprecedented for a country at peace.Fears of China expanding its military have been expressed, as have concerns over the increased prostitution, violent crime and bride trafficking that such a disproportionate number of males generally spurs. But certainly, and perhaps more trivially, a surplus of 30 million men should at least improve a girl’s chances of finding someone she might want to marry [Source: Roseann Lake,, March 12, 2012]

Studies by political scientists Andrea M. Den Boer and Valerie Hudson found that single young men are more likely to commit violence than married ones. Even criminals often give up crime after they get married and settle down. This pattern is consistent with the high crime rates found in Chinese cities that have particularly high male-to-female sex ratios.

Many of the migrant workers in Chinese cities are unmarried men. Those that can’t find work often congregate in groups — often at train and bus stations. Some have formed gangs and been hired as thugs.

Another consequence of the bride shortage is the high number of men with hangdog expressions hanging out in shopping districts in Beijing and other cities, where they hope to catch they eye of young women walking the streets. One single man told the New York Times, "This whole generation of Chinese men who will become monks. And then the women will feel sorry for us."

Even the government is beginning to admit there is a problem. In 2007, China’s State Population and Family Commission said, that “the increasingly difficulties men face finding wives may lead to social instability” and suggested relaxing the one-child policy to boost the number of women.

There are high demands for brides in Hebei, Guizhou and Guangdong, where there are shortages of women. In some bachelor villages the men say they are so poor that no one will marry them. Some of them have tricked women into marrying them by claiming they are richer than they really are. The shortage of women has also created a black market for baby girls and abducted women. The trafficking of girls has become a serious problem. See Abduction of Women and Girls Under Women

Chinese Man Who Couldn’t Find Find a Wife 'Marries' Robot

Zheng Jiajia — A Chinese artificial intelligence engineer — had grown tired of pressure to get married and searching for a girlfriend so he “married” a robot he built himself. named Yingying. The Guardian reported: After two months of “dating”, he donned a black suit to “marry” her at a ceremony attended by his mother and friends at the weekend in the eastern city of Hangzhou. [Source: Benjamin Haas, The Guardian, April 4, 2017]

While not officially recognised by the authorities, the union had all the trappings of a typical Chinese wedding, with Yingying’s head covered with a red cloth in accordance with local tradition. For now Yingying can only read some Chinese characters and images and speak a few simple words, but Zheng plans to upgrade his “bride” to be able to walk and do household chores. Until then he has to carry the 30kg robot to move her.

Reaction in China to the union has been mixed, with some social media users mocking Zheng and others wondering if it is all a publicity stunt. “You won’t have her mother looking down on you, you don’t have the pressure to buy a home and you get to save money and energy,” one user wrote on WeChat, a popular social network. “He’ll slowly get old, his face will become wrinkled and his hair will grow white – but will he upgrade her to grow old, or just to be prettier?” another user asked. Stories of robots replacing humans is commonplace in China, most notably in a smattering of restaurants where the waiters are automated. However, the machines rarely live up to expectations.

Witnesses to the ‘wedding’ were Zheng's mother and his friends. The South China Morning Post reported: One of his friends told the newspaper that Zheng had grown frustrated after failing to find a girlfriend. The report said Zheng planned to upgrade his robot "wife" to enable her to walk and even help out with household chores. Zheng once worked for Chinese multinational telecoms firm Huawei, the report said, but he left the firm in 2014 and joined Hangzhou's Dream Town, an internet venture base, in 2016. [Source: Kristin Huang, South China Morning Post, April 5, 2017]

Desperate Chinese Bachelor Kidnaps Woman on the Street

William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “Some enterprising singles offer their services as rent-a-boyfriends on China’s equivalent of eBay. But one desperate man this year topped them all. According to the Dalian Evening News, a 32-year-old bachelor in the northeastern province of Liaoning kidnapped a woman off the street and tried for 2 1/2 hours to talk her into becoming his wife. All so he wouldn’t have to face his parents’ excruciating Chinese New Year nagging. It was a creepy plan — including 100-foot-long ropes he brought to tie her up — but the man’s intentions, though peculiar, were chaste, at least in his own thinking. After his arrest, the man told police he had already been agonizing about his failures to find a wife, the Dalian newspaper reported. As his new year’s trip home approached, that anxiety only mushroomed. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, February 17, 2015 |=|]

“About 8 a.m., the man, identified only by his surname Liu, lay in wait by the side of a road. A 24-year-old woman walked by. At first he pretended to ask her for directions, then he dragged her into the woods and attempted to subdue her by sitting on her and tying her feet. The woman managed to get her boyfriend on her cellphone so he could hear what was going on. But the sexual assault they probably both feared turned out not to be what Liu had in mind. By the time police caught the man, he had spent 2 1/2 hours trying in vain to convince the woman of his appeal. “I told her I had just bought an apartment and was in the right condition for marriage, and I hoped that she could be my wife,” he reportedly told the police. |=|

“Reaction on Chinese social media ranged from anger over the assault on a woman to questions about the mental health of the man to commiseration over the unrelenting pressure in China to find a mate. Now that the man is in jail, one commenter on China’s Weibo site joked, at least now “you don’t have to worry about parents nagging you to get married!”

Corpse Brides in China

On a surge in the illegal trade of “corpse brides” in China, Elizabeth Shim of UPI reported: “Chinese villagers are willing to pay as much as $26,000 for female corpses they can bury with dead unmarried male relatives. The practice of "ghost marriages," where Chinese pay their respects to the deceased with a gift of a "bride" in the afterlife, persists in rural areas despite the exorbitant costs to families. The Chinese Communist Party banned the practice in 1949, but in recent years the tradition has returned, and with it a surge in "corpse bride"-related crimes and tomb raids, the South China Morning Post and Xinhua reported. [Source: Elizabeth Shim, UPI, April 5, 2017]

“Trade continues because criminals can make a fortune in finding and selling dead bodies, sometimes by murder, according to the report. In 2015, a man was arrested in Liangcheng County, Inner Mongolia, for killing a woman so that he could profit from the sale of her body to a family seeking a corpse bride. In April 2016, three men were arrested in the slaying of two women with mental disabilities. Police in northwest China said one of the men wanted to sell the bodies for "ghost weddings."

“Most of the trade in corpses takes place in north China. In Hongtong County in Shanxi Province, 27 female bodies were reported stolen since 2013. But more bodies could be missing because of underreporting, according to the Post. “Families who elect to purchase a corpse bride for burial are also not safe from theft. Zhang Gainong, a Hongtong County resident who paid $26,145 for a young girl's body, said he has to check his dead son's tomb to make sure tomb raiders have not stolen the body to be resold. Going with a dummy body is not an option in some villages, where elders tell families that such a practice would "set a bad example" for children, said another resident.

Looking for Brides on the Internet in China

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “Although instances of bride-buying and bride-napping are often reported in China, men are also turning to the web in the face of increasingly heavy competition to attract a mate. On China's mega microblogging website, Sina Weibo, a page called "Save a Single Police Officer" was created by the deputy director of a police station in Sichuan province to help his employees find a spouse. He feared that given the gender imbalance and the grueling work hours of his men, they would become guang gun, or "bare branches," a term usually used to describe men in China who cannot find a wife. [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

The page launched in February 2012 with the profiles of five police officers , including a strapping young man with a gun who goes by the name of "Cola427." Offering a mix of local news, weather reports, and the profiles of single officers (including some female ones) who have been added to the mix, the page now has more than 55,000 followers. This July, a post encouraged all citizens to rejoice because Cola427 (with over 6,000 followers of his own, age 29, measuring in at 1.78 meters and 70 kilos, had found the love of his life through the site.

Sensing the challenges faced by Chinese men in the dating and marriage departments, 29-year-old Vincent Qi is trying to make a difference. Born in China, he went to college in Britain and speaks English like an over-caffeinated grad student. Now in Beijing, he calls himself "The Lady Whisperer" and markets himself as an online guru on how to get women. Qi also teaches online classes on confidence-building, self-improvement, and how to be an all-around better man. He has over 4,000 followers on China's Weibo, and just three months since the online launch of his tuition-based school, he has attracted over 100 students — all male, and all rather average. They include a motley mix of students, small-online-shop owners, and working professionals on various rungs of the career ladder. "Socially, we [Chinese men] need to be average," says Qi, stressing that "China is not a culture that values individuality." He is quick to add, however, that from a monetary perspective, it's highly preferable to be well above average. This creates a paradox for China's "average Zhou": how to be far enough above average to be respected, without exceeding the culturally enforced limitations of what is considered respectably above average?

Chinese Government Efforts to Combat the Bride Shortage in China

According to SUP China: The Chinese government has rolled out a host of policies that aimed to make it easier for single men, known as “bare branches” ( guānggùn) in Chinese, to find girlfriends, establish families, and have babies. These measures have received mixed reactions from the public, with women fervently rejecting the idea of marrying someone due to pressure from society and government. [Source: Jiayun Feng, SUP China, June 3, 2020]

To combat the bride shortage some have suggested raising the marriage age of men (now 22) and lowering it for women (now 20). Some have also suggested bringing in women from other countries and allowing women to marry two men. Others have suggested that the Chinese government might lure men from the cities with big public work projects likes dams or even expand the military to accommodate them. In the past some men joined the army and some became monks. This took off some of the pressure to find women for all the available men. In some places men are marrying their first cousins and even their sisters through deals made with relatives because that is only way they can find a wife. The practice is so common that some communities are referred to as “incest villages." Some have suggested the problem will continue until China creates a real social safety net to reduce the demand for boys.

A government-sponsored computer-dating service, the Great Wall Information Company, founded in Beijing in 1989, and others often sponsored by provincial and city governments, are swamped by eager men searching for a mate. One of the most popular television shows nationwide is “We Meet Tonight,” a cross between a talent show and the “Dating Game,” hosted by Ms. Yang Guang since its first showing in 1990. [Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]

With women in short supply, the men are learning to be realistic and not set their expectations too high. In reality, the women now set the standards, making their choice of a prospective husband based on the intelligence, education, and financial status of many candidates. Another benefit for the women, prompted by the concurrent move towards a free market economy in which scarcity equals value, is that women can no longer be treated as chattel.

Custom has held that a man should marry a woman several years younger and with less education than he has. This left older unmarried women, especially those with more education, almost no hope of finding a husband. With the growing shortage of single women, increasing numbers of men are being forced to consider marrying an older woman. There is a saying being heard more commonly in the countryside that a man who marries a woman three or more years older has found a bar of gold and benefits from her maturity.

Prostitution and Women with Multiple Husbands: Solution to the Bridge Shortage?

Jiayun Feng wrote in SUP China: “Yew-Kwang Ng, a Malaysian economist who currently serves as a professor of economics at Fudan University in Shanghai, has attracted a great deal of ire on Chinese social media after publishing an article in which he suggested China legalize and promote polyandry — allowing women to marry multiple men — in a bid to solve the country’s surplus of bachelors. The controversial article (in Chinese) was published on June 2, 2020 by NetEase Finance, a website dedicated to business news. Titled “Is polyandry really a ridiculous idea?” the piece is part of a weekly column written by Huang, where he writes about “all matters related to happiness,” including “factors that contribute to happiness” and “the relationship between money and joy.” [Source: Jiayun Feng, SUP China, June 3, 2020]

“Huang first said that in China, the severe gender imbalance has caused a fierece competition among males looking for wives, leaving millions of bachelors struggling to “have their psychological and physical needs satisfied.” Huang then provided two possible solutions to what he considered as a “serious problem” for the country: decriminalizing sex work and allowing women to have several husbands.

“According to Huang, “building brothels for men to visit” was a short-term fix for men with “urgent needs,” but paying for sex was not a sustainable choice for those living on a tight budget. Moreover, Huang said that the benefits that come with having a wife go beyond sex. “They also serve other purposes such as being life partners, producing offspring, and raising children,” he wrote.

“Huang went on to say that in order to solve the problem in the long run, polyandrous marriages should be taken into consideration. “Polyandry has a long history and a scope of application. The practice also exists in modern times,” Huang wrote, citing an example of Tibet, where polyandry became illegal after China’s annexation in 1950. “I’m not denying the advantages of monogamy here, such as how exclusive long-term relationships can benefit kids’ growth and education,” Huang wrote. “But given China’s skewed sex ratio, it’s necessary to consider allowing polyandry legally.”

“To bolster his argument, Huang said that from a biological perspective, women are more capable of fulfilling multiple men’s sexual desire than the other way around. “It’s common for prostitutes to serve more than 10 clients in a day,” Huang wrote. Meanwhile, when it comes to other aspects of life, Huang argued that it’s reasonable for women to do chores for several households for the sake of efficiency. “Making meals for three husbands won’t take much more time than for two husbands,” he wrote.

“Huang’s suggestion of polyandry has turned out to be a tough sell. Some people opposed his idea because polyandry defied their traditional views about marriage. But more people, mostly women, criticized Huang for his misogynist attitude toward women, saying that he saw women as nothing more than reproductive tools and objects to fulfill men’s sexual needs.

“Below we have compiled some of the best comments on Huang’s suggestion: 1) “An ad for hell: Come down. There are plenty of women here.” 2) “This is not polyandry. This is several men sharing a sex slave.” 3) “Hahahahahaha. He made it sound like wives are such hot commodities of high demand that men should share them. He doesn’t know how to speak human language.” 4) “Okay, let’s experiment with your daughter first.” 5) “Excuse me, sir, are you really studying Chinese people’s happiness? I think you only care about men’s happiness.” 6) “Gay men make the best couples. The excessive 60 million men should solve the problem among themselves. Women are not their backup choices.” 7) “I think we should try male infanticide. I can guarantee you that we’ll have more women in 20 years.” 8) “This will no longer be a problem if we solve the expert who thinks he discovered a problem.” 9) “I want the legalization of women having multiple wives. Who cares for husbands?” 10) “I’ve read the whole article. In a nutshell, he doesn’t see women as human beings.” 11) “Girls in the comments are all clear-headed. We are not easy to fool.” 12) “Lu Xun: The thing I admire most about you is that you had the courage to publish such things.” 13) “Hahahahahahahahha. He wrote the article with his ass.”

New Family Structures in China

Nicholas Eberstad wrote in Far Eastern Economic Review, “The most far-reaching implications of the many demographic changes inadvertently promoted by the One Child Policy, however, may not concern those who cannot find a spouse. Instead, they may entail a revolution in family structure for those who do manage to marry and have children. With the advent of steep sub-replacement fertility rates, single-child families are increasingly common, a trend which may portend the demise of the extended family network and the rise of a peculiar new pattern: only children begotten by only children. In such families, children will have no siblings, uncles, aunts or cousins. Their only blood relatives will be ancestors and descendants.” [Source: Nicholas Eberstad, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2009]

Research by Professor Guo Zhigang of Peking University and his colleagues suggests how far China has already moved toward this new family type. By their estimates, as of the year 2011, nearly a quarter of China's urban adults between the ages of 25 and 49 will be only children. By 2020, this figure would rise to 42 percent, and by 2030, they would constitute the clear majority at 58 percent.

The emergence of what we might term the “kin-less family” is expected to pose extraordinary challenges. After all, Chinese culture is predicated on the existence of robust and extensive family bonds. Yet the inherent problems in this impending revolution are not solely metaphysical; the atrophy of the traditional Chinese family structure will also complicate the Chinese way of doing business.

In the past, China was what Professor Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins-SAIS has termed a “low-trust” society. It remains one today. To overcome this lack of confidence in laws and official institutions, Chinese entrepreneurs and economic agents have relied upon informal relationships (guanxi) to get things done. These informal networks have served to lower both risk and transaction costs for the parties associated with them. They have, in fact, been an integral and often unacknowledged ingredient in China's economic success over the past three decades. Yet with the advent of the “kin-less family,” many rising, young economic and political actors will no longer be able to count on blood ties in their quest to conduct secure transactions.

Foreign Brides for Sale in China

In the richer coastal areas men look to the poorer west for brides. Brides are also sought in poorer neighboring countries like Myanmar, North Korea, Vietnam and even Russia. Stanford University's Marcus Feldman told Newsweek, "With a free-market economies developing at the same time the number of available bride decreases, you will find women increasingly becoming commodities to be bought and sold." Already large numbers of brides are being smuggled into China from Vietnam and are also making their way in from Russia and Central Asia. Some girls and young women from North Korea, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam have been kidnaped and taken to China and sold as brides.

Cat Barton of AFP wrote: “Vulnerable women in countries close to China — not only Vietnam but also North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar — are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy, experts say. China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children. As a result millions of men now cannot find Chinese brides — a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups. [Source: Cat Barton, AFP, June 25, 2014 +++]

“As trafficking is run by illegal gangs and the communities involved are poor and remote, official data is patchy and likely underestimates the scale of the problem, experts say. But rights workers across Southeast Asia say they are witnessing "systematic" trafficking of women into China for forced marriages. "This problem has largely been swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.” +++

Loners In Search of Low Living Costs Head to China's Hollowed-out North

Reporting Hegang in the far north of China, Ryan Woo of Reuters wrote: “Li Hai is a nobody in China. But the 32-year-old ship mechanic became a minor internet sensation after posting a video of his everyday life in a largely forgotten coal city in the country's far north. Resource-rich cities like Hegang in Heilongjiang province helped power China's economic miracle. But as their coal, minerals and timber dwindled, their mines and industries declined. Populations shrank as the young fled south in search of jobs, opportunity and love. With China's economic growth at a 30-year nadir and living costs chronically high, cheap homes in hollowed-out cities are pulling a small tribe of frugal and independent-minded millennials to Heilongjiang. [Source: Ryan Woo, Reuters, January 13, 2020]

“Hegang was the cheapest real estate market among China's 321 larger cities in 2019, a big attraction for Li when he was house-hunting last year. Li had few friends in his home city of Zhoushan 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to the south. He had become estranged from his parents and his landlord was bent on raising his rent.

“Often out at sea for a stretch of six months, Li's thinking was to build a base in Hegang and keep a lid on costs. "Many drifted here to buy homes as a fail-safe," said Li, who paid 750 yuan ($100) per square meter for a top-floor flat in a low-rise housing estate. Apartments in Beijing cost 80 times more. "If something happens to them, at least they have a home."

Wary of frauds and tricksters, Li has few friends, who, like him, prefer not to go out. "You need money to socialize," said Li, who earns 60,000 yuan ($8,640) a year. When not in bed with a novel, he would be posting positive product reviews online to get extra cash. "Social classes are fixed," Li said. "The poor can never achieve anything. When you encounter problems, if you can solve it, great. There's not much you can do otherwise." Not all recent Hegang arrivals are as fatalistic.

“Zheng Qian, 26, moved to Hegang in October, and is now able to save half of his 5,000 yuan-a-month earnings from internet marketing. The Guangzhou native, who mostly keeps to himself, aspires to be a live-streaming star. In December 2019, Zheng posted a video of himself throwing boiling water that instantly froze in Hegang's frigid air. The seconds-long clip won him 20 million views on ByteDance's Douyin, a popular short-video app. "That's where I must seize any opportunity," Zheng said.

Image Sources: Nolls website,

Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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