Shanghai’s so-called “leftover women” — the sheng nu (剩女) — are constantly on my mind, now that I have one in my life. She’s my Teacher Wang, and I’ve previously blogged about her lessons on love, dating and being a sheng nu. This harsh term refers to the growing battalion of Chinese women in their late 20s and 30s who are well-educated, well-paid, career-minded, and — gasp! — still single, unlikely to get hitched anytime soon. It’s a hot topic, recently discussed in CNNGo’s ‘The stigma of being single in Shanghai’ and NPR’s ‘In China, Looking For Mr. Right (Enough).’ But no article is as informative or amusing as a first person perspective from a genuine sheng nu, an incredibly charismatic one who has her class scratching their heads, both bewildered and indignant that our beloved teacher can’t find the love of her life.
In our last class, Teacher Wang drew a Venn/set diagram in a lighthearted attempt to explain why she is still single. She kept it simple so we could understand her Mandarin. Below is her diagram, followed by my English translation:
“This diagram represents the men with desirable traits in Shanghai,” she said. “The handsome, the rich, and those who are talented. Those who are good-looking and have some money are sweet-talkers, probably with women on the side. Those who are handsome and talented are usually poor. Men who have cultivated their talent enough to make money from it are old by the time they do. As for the men who are all three, represented by this” — she pointed to the shaded area in the center — “well, they are all gay.”
We burst into laughter. “How about women in Shanghai,” we ask.
Teacher Wang paused, then started drawing. “I guess this also explains sheng nu,” she said, and we stared at her latest work of art:
“Men marry women who are beautiful, or rich, or talented. They avoid the overlaps, and these are the sheng nu. Beautiful and rich women are untrustworthy; talented and rich women are too old to bear children; as for women who are both beautiful and talented — well, the combination of looks and brains can be a bit too intimidating, and also, these women are poor. At least, I am!”
And women who are all three?