20080225-men having a meal u wash.jpg
Men in the 19th century having a meal
Chinese men have a reputation for womanizing and drinking too much. They often treat women very rudely, often ordering them around, entering a room first, and rarely helping out around the house. Men often smoke and drink heavily because of the “guanxi” routine. Huang Minjie, a 24-year-old woman from a well-to-do family in southern China who was educated overseas, told the Strait Times: "Many Chinese men tend to smoke in public places, talk very loudly, and often jump the queue. Even those who receive university education or well-dressed people behave like that,' she said. 'I prefer some Europeans who are well mannered and chivalrous." [Source: Jason Ou, Straits Times, November 15, 2011]

Chinese men are not known for being well-dressed or suave. Describing one guy he knew, Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “Yuan wore a white tank top, khaki shorts, leather loafers, and black socks pulled up to his kneecaps. He carried a money bag in one hand and a dirty white towel in the other. He puffed in the heat; he used the towel to mop sweat off his neck.” There are a fair number of sexy Chinese guys out there. A NextShark! headline from September 2020 read: “Chinese Man Complaining About Shower Door Becomes Internet Star For Being 'Too Handsome'."

Men are regarded as the head of the household, the major decision-maker and major breadwinner. Their status and the standing of their family is determined by their success at the roles mentioned above. Village men have traditionally done the heavy chores such as plowing the fields, clearing the land, planting and harvesting, building homes, hunting, fishing, setting traps, cutting down trees. and doing work that requires the most strength while the women tended crops. Until recently most Chinese males were “hard and thin.” Now many urban dwellers have “boss bellies.”

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: A surprising findings about Chinese men from research to develop brand positioning by a leading Chinese insurance company was they were as concerned about health and fitness as their American counterparts. When probing more deeply as to the reason for this, it emerged that they were concerned that if their health deteriorated, they would not be able to care for their families. Not just their immediate family, but also their parents and extended family. “ [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

Since the work of the village men is often concentrated into a few weeks they have a lot of free time, which is sometimes spent hanging around, gambling, making deals or seeking work outside the village Often, while women work the men spend much of the time in the tea houses chatting and playing card games and mah jong, or sitting around the radio or television tuned into soccer matches or the news. Many tea houses and even restaurants are male-only establishments.

Chinese Men in the Eyes of Western Women

On the image of Chinese men in the eyes of the Western woman, Professor Zhang Jie of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences concluded after two years of studies on this subject : The “male Chinese image is not sharp/vivid, and even sort negative, they're modest, but lack of manner/sportsmanship, hard-working but slightly short of confidence. [Source: Sin Chew Daily Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, January 23, 2009]

In the eyes of Western women, Chinese men's overall image is " the rural youth just entered college: they are self-motivated, thrifty, smart, but more out-of-date/old fashioned, and some do not pay attention to hygiene. Some lack self-confidence, afraid to face someone else's eyes.... Overall, the Western women believe that the only thing Chinese men defeated the Western man is "taking care of his families". Chinese men lost Western men in those places like : sexual attraction, independence, self-cultivation, and etiquette, sense of humor, romantic, degree of respect for women, creativity, courage, and fashion. ... In addition, the Chinese men are not clean enough, such as their nails are dirty, and spitting.

Lydia Townsend, a graphic designer and Asian pop culture fanatic in England posted on in 2016: "Looks wise, I have always quite liked Asian, or Chinese, guys and been attracted to them. Many of my friends do not find them attractive, though - which is fair enough each to their own. I think Chinese culture is misunderstood a lot which would cause some women to be close-minded about dating a Chinese man more than a western man dating a Chinese woman would be. I find Asian men a little quiet and shy in approaching women compared to western men, but in some ways this appeals to me more. As long as he is an open-minded individual that doesn't expect me to be an idle housewife, I would have no problem with it.

Chinese Woman Comedian on Chinese Men: Average, Yet So Full of Confidence?

Jane Li wrote in Quartz:“How can he be so average, yet so full of confidence?” That baffled line about the male psyche, delivered by 28-year-old stand-up comedian Yang Li in 2020, has become a catch-phrase for feminists in China. In the face of widespread sexism, it was a moment of public pushback that is becoming less rare. “Men are so mysterious,” Yang said, feigning a confused look on her face as she elaborated cuttingly about men’s self-involvement at the online comedy show Rock and Roast. “Unlike women, who always think of themselves as unimportant, men always think of themselves as the center of the universe. Every single sentence from men carries utmost importance, and points out the right direction in which the world should advance.” [Source: Jane Li, Quartz, January 23, 2021

“Average-yet-confident” has swiftly been taken up by women desperate to describe their experiences of men with outsized egos who are oblivious to the privileges associated with their gender. On Weibo, users used it to share their annoyance. “A male classmate who is attending the same online class as me changed his online bio to: ‘I am in a relationship, please don’t hit on me.’ He is really the champion of all ‘average-yet-confident’ males!” one user wrote.

“Such catchphrases have been a long time coming for women in China. While terms deriding men’s behavior have been gaining traction in the west for years, observers say China is now coining its own phrases, thanks in part to comedians like Yang pushing the envelope. “In the English-language world, there have long been terms like ‘mansplaining,’ used to mock males who like to give their condescending opinions on things. But it’s [only] now that we are finally seeing Yang’s jokes gain popularity in the Chinese-speaking community,” observed Luo Yansu (link in Chinese), a popular Chinese entertainment blogger in a widely-read post. “Yang’s jokes are in no way stoking gender opposition, but [rather] females making their voices heard — which already has come way too late,” wrote Luo.

“Yang’s jokes are far milder than the takes on sex and racism delivered by her female western peers. Nonetheless, they are an example of recent efforts by some Chinese women to counter the country’s deeply rooted misogyny. Not everyone appreciates Yang’s jokes. In December 2020, an internet user who billed himself as a defender of equal rights between men and women initiated a campaign on Weibo asking his followers to report Yang to China’s top media regulator. The user, accuses Yang of “insulting all men” and “creating gender opposition,” and said Yang’s jokes are “harmful to the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

“Yang has refrained from making many comments on the criticism against her, apart from saying on Weibo earlier this month that stand-up comedy has become an increasingly difficult profession. Many of her fans defended her, saying she isn’t out to ignite a gender war, but is in fact an advocate for true respect between men and women. Some pointed to a joke she told in December about her experience seeing a male gynecologist, which she turned into an account that was as poignant as it was comic. “That is the first time when I was lying in front of a standing man, and both of us were completely at ease and had no non-relevant thoughts,” Yang said. “I felt I was no longer just a woman, but a human being that wanted to survive, while the male doctor had only one purpose which was to help me survive. When he asked how I felt, I said, I felt completely free.”

Zhu Ziqing on Fatherhood

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: ““Zhu Ziqing (1898-1948) achieved fame as a writer of poetry, criticisms, sketches, and essays in the decades immediately following the May Fourth Movement. As a 1920 graduate of Beijing University, Zhu was certainly influenced by the cultural debates of the May Fourth period. The essay below concerns his views on his family, and particularly his five children. [Source:Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

In “My Children”, Zhu Ziqing wrote: “Being an egotist through and through, I am not much as a husband, even less as a father. “Of course, “Esteem children and grandchildren” and “Youth is the basic unit” are philosophical, and ethical principles which I recognize. Once you have become a father, I know, you cannot, just shut your eyes and ignore the rights of the children. Unfortunately, many of my ideas, remain mere theory; in actual fact, I cope with the situation in the old-fashioned traditional way, savage in style, just like any ordinary father. Only now when I am almost middle.aged do I, realize a little of my own brutality, and when I think of the corporal punishment and scolding, the children have had to endure, I am at a loss to find excuses. Like touching an old scar, it still, hurts to think of it. [Source: “My Children” by Zhu Ziqing, Translated by Ernst Wolff from “Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 391-395; Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, ]

“Once, reading a translation of Arishima Takeo’s “With the Young,”3 I was moved to tears by his noble and deeply sincere attitude. Last year my father enquired about Ajiu, who was then still with me at White Horse Lake, saying in his letter, “Since I never neglected you, I wish you would also not neglect him.” I thought this remark very touching. Why am I not capable of my father’s loving kindness? I will never forget how he looked after me. Human nature may really be polarized; I am certainly inconsistent, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. [3 Arishima Takeo (1878-1923), Japanese author and social idealist]

“I was only nineteen the year I married. I was twenty-one when we had Ajiu, twenty-three, when we had Acai. At that time I was like a wild horse that could not stand saddle, reins, and bridle. I knew I should not run away from it and yet, unconsciously, I tried to. Thinking, back to those days, I see that I really gave the two children a hard time; my acts of violence were, unpardonable. When Ajiu was only two and a half years old, we lived on the school ground at, Hangzhou. Seemingly for no reason, this child was crying all the time and was also very wary, of strangers. When he was not near Mother, or when he saw a stranger, he would start bawling, his head off. Since many people lived around us, I could not let him disturb the whole, neighborhood, but we also could not avoid having many visitors. I was most annoyed by his, behavior. Once I purposely got Mother out of the room, closed the door, put the boy on the floor and gave him a good spanking. Even now, when we talk about it, Mother finds it, unpardonable. She says my hands are too harsh. After all, the child was only two and a half. In, recent years I have often felt sad at the thought of that incident. Once it also happened with, Acai in Taizhou. She was even smaller, just past a year, hardly able to walk, possibly because, she was very much attached to her mother. I put her in a corner and let her cry and yell for, three or four minutes. It made her sick for a few days, and Mother said it was really a heartless, thing to do. But my sufferings were genuine too.

“Once I wrote Ye Shengtao that my plight due to the children sometimes got to be, unbearable and gave rise to thoughts of suicide. Although in saying this I was merely venting, my anger, I really have been in this mood sometimes. Later, with more children, and having to, bear my suffering for some time, I found the sharp edges of my youth had become blunted and, added age had increased my rational judgment. I became more tolerant, recognizing that in the past I really had been “anything but a perfect father,” as I wrote to another friend. However, I, still believe that my children in their early years were much more of an annoyance than other, people’s. I think it may have been mainly due to our ineptness at bringing them up. Yet if we, invariably scolded them and had them take all the blame for what should have been our, responsibility, it was certainly a shameful cruelty on our part. “Yet I must admit there was also happiness in the true sense. As anyone will tell you, the little ones are always adorable, those captivating little mites and little darlings.

Feng Zikai5 wrote an article for, his Viewing China, which is all “amiable talk from a most kindhearted man.” Ye Shengtao often, talked about his worries too, such as what middle school to send the children to after they, finished elementary school. He brought this topic up with me two or three times. Those friends, made me feel ashamed of my own attitude. Recently, however, I have grown more aware of my, responsibilities. I think, first of all, I must get all my children together. Next, I must give them, strength. I have personally witnessed the case of a man who, although very fond of his children, grossly neglected them by not providing good educations for them. Not that he was spoiling, them in any way; it was merely that he lacked the patience to take good care of them. As a, result, they will never amount to much. I think if I go on like I have, my children will be in even, greater danger. I must make plans, must let them gradually know what it takes to become a, good human being. But do I want them to become like me? Once at White Horse Lake where I, was teaching lower middle school, I had asked Xia Mianzun this question, to be considered, from the standpoint of the teacher.pupil relationship. He answered unhesitatingly, “Of course!”, Recently, I came to talk with Yu Pingbo6 about raising children and he had a clever answer: “In any case, do not make them worse than we are.” Yes, indeed, raising them to be not worse than, we are, that would do! Likeness to oneself need not be of any concern. Profession, world view, and so on — let them figure that out for themselves. Whatever they decide for themselves, they, will value. Merely to guide them and help them develop themselves seems the most, enlightened path to follow. [5 Feng Zikao (1898.1975), artist and essayist; 6 Yu Pingbo (1900.1990), poet and scholar]

Chinese Men in 1899

In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”: “When the complicated protracted” marriage “ceremonies are all over, our young lad is, it is true, a married man, but he is not the “head” of any family, not even of his own. He is still under the same control of his father as before, his bride is under the control of the mother-in-law, to a degree which it is difficult for us to comprehend. If the youthful husband is trying to learn to compose essays, his marriage does not at all interrupt his educational enterprise and as soon as the ceremonies are over he goes on just as before.

“If he is dull, and cannot make the “seven empty particles” — the terror of the inexpert Chinese essayist — fit into his laborious sentences to the satisfaction of his teacher, he is not unlikely to be beaten over the head for his lack of critical acumen, and can then go weeping home to have his wife stick a black gummy plaster over the area of his chastisement. We have known a Chinese boy who had the dropsy in an aggravated form but who could not be persuaded to take a single dose of medicine that was at all bitter. If he was pressed to do so by his fond mother, he either fell into a passion, or cried. If he was not allowed to eat two whole watermelons at a time his tactics were the same, a domestic scene either of violent temper, or of dismal howling grief. He was merely prolonging into youth the plan universally adopted in the childhood of Chinese children. Yet this sensitive infant of seventeen had been married for several years, and leaves a widow to mourn the circumstance that drugs, dropsy, and watermelons, have blighted her existence. It is far from being an infrequent circumstance for boys who have been married early, on occasion of some grievance, to run crying to their mothers for comfort as they have been in the habit of doing, and to be met with the chilling inquiry: “Why do you come to me? If you want anything, go to Her!”

“Of that sympathy for childhood as such, which is so distinguishing a part of our modern civilization, an average Chinese father has no conception whatever. By this is not meant that he is not fond of his children, for the reverse is most palpably true. But he has no capacity for entering into the life of a child, and comprehending it. His fondness for his children is the result of the paternal instinct, and is not an intelligent and sympathetic appreciation of the mind of a child. He not only has no conception of such a thing, but he would not be able to understand what is meant by it, if the possibility of such sympathy were pointed out. The invariable reply to all suggestions, looking toward such sympathy coming from a foreigner, seems to be, “Why, he is only a mere child!” It is by the slow moulding forces of maturing life alone that the boy is expected to learn the lessons of life, and these lessons he must learn largely — though not altogether — by himself.

If a Chinese husband happens to be a person of a quiet habit, with no taste for tumults, he may possibly find himself yoked to a Xantippe who never for an instant relaxes the reins of her dominion. In such cases the prudent man will be glad to purchase “peace at any price,” and whatever the theory may be, the woman rules. Such instances are by no means infrequent. This is witnessed as well by what one sees and hears in Chinese society as well as by the many sayings which refer to the “man-who-fears-what-is-inside,” that is, the “hen-pecked man.” Although it is an accepted adage that a “genuine cat will slay a mouse/ A genuine man will rule his house,” “yet there are numerous references to the punishment kneeling-by-the-bedside-holding-a-lamp-on-the-head,” which is the penalty exacted by the regnant wife from her disobedient husband.

“If a Chinese woman has the heaven-bestowed gift of being obstreperous to such a degree that, as the sayings go, “people do not know east from west”; that “men are worn out and horses exhausted”; that “the mountains tremble and the earth shakes,” this is unquestionably her surest life-preserver. It is analagous to But if such an endowment has been denied her, her next best resource is to pursue a course exactly the opposite, in all circumstances and under all provocations holding her tongue. To most Chinese women, this seems to be a feat as difficult as aërial navigation, but now and then an isolated case shows that the difficult is not always the impossible.

Handsome-Standard for Chinese Guys

Anonymous posted in in 2020 The handsome standard “for Chinese men was always quite varied because on one end of the spectrum was the “North China Plain” look which aimed for a muscular, tall appearance with sharp eyes, light skin, and full beard. Beards have fallen out of fashion in modern China with people preferring a clean-shaven look but the other parts have remained. Northern Han Chinese are overall much more genetically homogeneous than Southern Han Chinese (the latter have a far greater range of phenotypes) but if Chinese people want to be more specific, they may say that men from the Bohai Bay (Hebei and Shandong) and Dongbei/Northeast (mostly descended from Hebei and Shandong immigrants) are the most handsome as they have the greatest average heights. Actor and singer Jing Boran is from Liaoning province which is located in Northeast China. To me, Jing Boran looks like a military serviceman who likes to hang out with you at the gym. [Source: Anonymous,, 2020]

Northern China has long been stereotyped as “masculine” while Southern China was “feminine” due to how Chinese culture is highly patriarchal so they have gendered the history of Northern China conquering Southern China to represent male dominance over female submission. Telling a Chinese man that he looks “Northern” is often considered a compliment because you are implying he is masculine but at the same time, “beautiful men” have been more desired at certain points in Chinese history. A key attractive feature about Northern Chinese men to many people is their height.

Most Chinese people think the ideal appearance for Chinese men is that of a “Northern Chinese” look with a preference for those that are tall (so Bohai Bay and the Northeast). But “beautiful men” mostly from Jiangnan have also been a predominant beauty standard at various points in Chinese history which upturned the traditional notions of masculinity. We can also see how today with Chinese people being better connected than ever due to a high literacy rate, internet connection, and transportation links — that a Sichuanese man would be considered one of the most handsome men in China but go back a few hundred years ago and most Chinese people would not even know that Sichuan existed, let alone ponder about how attractive the men could be.

Which Part of China Has the Best-Looking Guys

Anonymous posted on in 2019: Northern Han Chinese men are generally considered more attractive than Southern Han Chinese men for a multitude of reasons stretching back through time making the preference both historical and contemporary. Chinese women when polled have consistently answered that they think the best looking men come from the north. However, Southern Chinese men are often believed to be wealthier and more open-minded which are also attractive to women. I don’t know if there is any specific province that the Chinese have in mind as the “most handsome” but it’s actually a compliment to tell a Southern Chinese man he “doesn’t look like a Southerner” or that he “looks like a Northerner”. [Source: Anonymous,, 2019]

I went through a list of all the popular Chinese actors deemed attractive over the past ten years and the majority of them are from the North, particularly from the Northeast... Contemporary reasons for the desirability of Northern Chinese men can be related to the rise of the Korean pop culture. Chinese people have become influenced by Korean beauty standards so they might find Northern Han Chinese men more attractive as genetically speaking, Northern Han Chinese are fairly closely related to Koreans when compared to the Southern Han who may be closer to Southeast Asian peoples such as Vietnamese. So of course a Northern Chinese man is far more likely have physical similarities that fit Korean beauty standards than a Southern Chinese man does.

Obviously there is much more to the idea than just Korean pop culture since the belief that Northern men are more attractive has persisted for thousand of years. North China has long been stereotyped as masculine while South China is stereotyped as feminine. There are some physical characteristics that emphasize the stereotypes such as Northern Chinese men being on average taller and larger bodied than their Southern counterparts which demonstrate the ecogeogrpahical effects of Bergmann's rule. Height is extremely important in a man’s perceived attractiveness in China and many other parts of the world. If you want to base attractiveness purely on height then Shandong would win by a landslide.

Taiwanese men are stereotyped as effeminate and unattractive by most Chinese (the Taiwanese accent is often not seen as a good thing for men). When Taiwanese actor Mark Chao landed the role of the male lead in Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms, Chinese netizens were angered because he did not fit the beauty standards based on Northern Chinese men as he had darker skin and “Southeast Asian features” which are common in the Taiwanese population. I think Taiwanese women may be viewed more favorably as “cute” but in terms of female beauty, the middle Chinese populations like the Jiangsu and Sichuan women have them beat by a massive margin. Lucky for Chao though that people began to be won over by his performance and the fact that he was at least 180 cm.

Another Anonymous posted in in 2020 Jiangnan (the region immediately to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River) women of Southeastern China are historically considered (and still by many today) to be the most beautiful women in China for their artistry, traditionalism, and femininity. In much the same vein, the Jiangnan man or the “pretty boy” appearance was also a Chinese male beauty standard as it expressed refinement and scholarly pursuits. Some Chinese women like the gentlemanly and intelligent “pretty boy” appearance which is most commonly associated with Jiangsu province (particularly the Wu-speaking areas) or the Jiangnan region. Chinese actor Yang Yang from Shanghai has that elegant “Jiangsu look” (which makes sense since Shanghai was formerly a part of Jiangsu). To me, Yang Yang looks like a wealthy businessman who would take you out to a fancy restaurant.

Now you might be wondering where Southwest China is supposed to fit into this discussion but a province like Sichuan was often thought of being too far away from the “Emperor” or whatever was happening to the east. At many points in time, Southwest China was really in it’s own world. A lot of people these days would agree that the Ba-Shu region (Sichuan and Chongqing) has by far the cutest Han Chinese subgroup of women. Some would say the same applies to Sichuanese men who share the features of light skin, wide smiles, and large eyes with their female counterparts. I notice that Sichuanese men usually have very well-defined facial features. Chongqing native, Xiao Zhan burst into the limelight with his breakout performance as Wei Wuxian in the Chinese drama The Untamed and was ranked #1 most handsome face in Asia by TC Candler. To me, Xiao Zhan looks like your high school sweetheart who would get shy about holding your hand in public. [Source: Anonymous,, 2020]

Unmarried Men in China and the Bride Shortage

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 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. 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

Thanks to a preference for boys and selective abortions, China now has 34 million more men than women and by 2020 could have twenty-four million single men of marrying age unable to find wives. “This situation could get even worse, with women between the ages of twenty-two and thirty-one expected to decline by 40 percent between 2015 and 2025. [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.

Impact of Bride Shortage and Competitive Economy on the Chinese Male

Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “Berlin Fang, a columnist, literary translator, and associate director at the North Institute for Teaching and Learning at Oklahoma Christian University, argues that the demands of the marriage market and China's relatively new market economy are so heavy that "Chinese men have lost the ability to be average." Like Zhang, he recalls the days of the danwei with bittersweet nostalgia, as a time when people weren't so quick to size each other up in terms of their market value. There was a certain comfort and ease to being average, one that has become extinct, given the extreme competition to be one of the "haves." In such a densely populated country, Fang insists that "average is the new mediocre." [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

“The distinction between "average" and "mediocre" is one that has been ticking on the Chinese national psyche, as indicated by one of the questions on last year's gaokao, China's notorious college entrance exam: “Please write on the theme of refusing to be mediocre and accepting to be average. People cannot be mediocre. Mediocrity means no creation, no development, no progress. Living in this world, we should not be mediocre. We should have principles, insights, and persistence. Write 800 words in any genre except poetry.”

Fang notes that the question was a source of heated debate, as there were concerns that today's students might not be able to distinguish between "mediocre" and "average." In a country where the social pressure to excel is so acute and mediocrity is rarely an option, Fang agrees that the question is knotty. He suspects it was designed to make students understand that it's acceptable to be average, so long as it's an aspirational average, not a feckless one.

Examples of responses that earned perfect scores can be found on Chinese news portal that tells the story of Wang Xiaobo. Following a subpar performance at the office, Wang does not receive the bonus he was expecting. When, over a meal of freshly prepared fish, he reveals to his wife that he was denied his bonus, she, "putting down her chopsticks and losing color in her face," laments that she is destined to live a lowly life, having such a good-for-nothing husband. After nursing his woes with a bit of alcohol, Wang hands his life savings over to a shady investment banker and eventually loses everything. Naturally, he heads to a lake to commit suicide, but instead ends up saving a nearby drowning woman. This good deed restores his honor, and he eventually becomes the hardworking, well-earning man whom his wife wants him to be.

While Wang's story certainly reflects a triumph over mediocrity, the fact that his wife's well-being is so dependent on his financial performance, and that Wang is so clearly depicted as her provider, reflects how ingrained these ideas remain in modern Chinese society. Yet because it's nearly economically impossible for most Chinese men — average or otherwise — to be the providers they aspire to be, they frequently have to rely on their parents for financial support. This is a slippery slope, as it often gives progenitors more control than warranted over their son's choice of a partner, but Chinese parents — keen to have their sons dutifully snuggled into wedlock — gladly chip in. Zhang and Wei's study shows how this plays into China's household savings rate, which at 30 percent is among the world's highest. They argue that this fact is of particular economic concern, as the high marriage-related savings rate contributes to China's current account surplus, which in turn drives down China's exchange rate and perpetuates the global trade imbalance. "It's completely unsustainable," says Zhang, arguing that the exact opposite — less saving, more spending — is what China's economy needs to keep afloat. But because men need to buy homes, they save. And because their demand for homes drives up real estate property, everyone else must save too, in order to keep up.

Women Want a Man with an Apartment

Marriage Market Survey in China — a survey of 32,000 people in 2010 by the All-China Women’s Federation — revealed that 70 percent of single woman would not consider marrying a man unless he already possessed a home. Roseann Lake wrote in Foreign Policy: “It is culturally approved — even expected — for a woman to "free-ride" and move into her husband's house without making any contributions to it, but given the astronomical cost of housing, more women are helping to cover costs too. Doctoral research by Leta Hong Fincher of Tsinghua University focuses on Chinese women who are pitching in, if not shouldering, the joint purchase of a home with their husbands. She points out that this may work to their disadvantage down the road. Due to traditional, yet increasingly improbable, ideals of the man as the sole provider, homes are generally registered under a man's name. According to Chinese law, property belongs only to the person whose name it is registered under, so in the event of a divorce, women who are not listed as co-owners will lose out on financial contributions to their former marital home. Fincher also cites instances in which young women are hassled by parents into transferring their life's savings to a bachelor relative, so he can use the money to buy a house and increase his chances of finding a wife. Because it is assumed that a woman will marry into a house, the logic goes that she has a less pressing need for savings of her own. [Source: Roseann Lake, Foreign Policy, September 28, 2012]

On the other hand, women who are homeowners before marriage are considered better off, and this can actually improve their chances of "marrying up" into the echelons of moneyed men who have bigger houses than they do. Jeannie Wang, 29, of Beijing, is one of those women. Well-employed at a major auditing firm, she purchased an apartment as an investment and plans to live at home with her parents until marriage. "Ideally, I would like a man to also have a house of his own, or at least the earning potential so that we can buy one together," she says, slightly concerned that having a man move into her house would humiliate him. "I wouldn't mind so much if I really cared for him, but it's something I think few Chinese men would go for."

Her case illustrates the double-edged nature of female property ownership in China. Own something, and it might allow you to marry someone with something bigger. Own something too big, and it could intimidate potential suitors. For men, however, bigger is always better. Zhang recalls visiting villages in China that were bedizened with a "phantom third story." This type of construction refers to a two-story house with an unfurnished, unfinished third story built to make the house appear more grandiose from the outside. The trend has taken off in neighborhoods where the competition for a wife is particularly fierce; in some areas, it has become mainstream to the extent that matchmakers won't schedule an appointment with a man's family unless his house has the requisite phantom floor.

Spitting, Pulled Up Shirts and Exposed Bellies in China

Chinese men hack and spit everywhere: on the streets, all over the sidewalks, in buildings, on the floor of trains, and even on the floors of restaurants and homes. Doctors and staff routinely spit on the hallway floors in hospitals. Be careful when walking past a bus full of Chinese. Passengers often spit out the window. Women also spit but not as much as the men. In one survey, two thirds of all the adult Chinese asked admitted to spitting on a regular basis. If that figure is true around 900 million people in China are habitual spitters. Many men smoke and have hacking smoker’s coughs. The first thing many of them do when they leave their houses in morning is clear phlegm from their throats and spit. Some Chinese men spit on the wheel rims on their cars to see if the brakes are rubbing on the hub. The practice I hope is less common place than it once was and varies from place to place.

On hot summer days in Beijing and other places, it is a common sight to see men running around without shirts or with their shirts rolled up under their armpits exposing their bellies. They hang around, play cards, drink tea, stroll on the sidewalks without their shirts, exposing their less than ideal bodies. Flabby tummies and spares tires are the norm, not rippling abs. They also like to pull up their trousers past their belly button, with the legs rolled up. One Chinese academic told the Los Angeles Times, “Foreigners who visit always ask why are there so many half-naked men in Beijing."

Chinese men expose their bellies to the air as a means of cooling themselves. Some also hike up their pant’s legs. Even though men from a wide range of ages engage in the custom those that do it are smirkingly known as “bang ye” (“exposing grandfathers”). One man spotted with his flabby tummy exposed told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t know, it just feels cooler. Look, you just shake your shirt to create breeze.” [Source:John Glionna, Los Angeles Times, August 2010]

Many younger, more sophisticated Chinese don’t like the custom. A man who works at department store in told the Los Angeles Times, “It lower’s Beijing’s standing as an international city. If my dad reaches for his shirt when I’m out with him, I threaten to go home. It’s just so embarrassing.”The habit is actually a sort of compromise to the custom of men going totally shirtless. A Chinese medicine doctor told the Los Angeles Times, “People chose to expose their belly because they feel so hot in summer but feel embarrassed to take off their shirts completely.” Authorities began to crack down on the no-shirt habit during the pre-Olympic run up. During that campaign the Beijing Truth Daily ran pictures of men who went around shirtless, often with less than attractive upper bodies, in an effort to shame them into dressing respectfully.

Image Sources: 1) Posters,Landsberger Posters ; 2) Family photos, 3) 19th century men, Universty of Washington; Wiki Commons

Text Sources: 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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