'An unmarried woman is incomplete': powerful ad shows China's 'leftover' women shamed for being single

By Samantha Luiz
15 April 2016

A video campaign about China's "leftover woman" has gone viral, sparking debate about the stigma facing unmarried woman in China.

Created by Japanese cosmetics company SK-II, the campaign draws attention to the pressures being faced by "sheng nu", a derogatory term used when referring to single women over the age of 27.

"The film brings light to the real-life issue of talented and brave Chinese women feeling pressured to get married before they turn 27, for fear of being labelled 'sheng nu'," explains Markus Strobel, the president of the beauty giant.

The advert is also said to be a "a global campaign to inspire and empower women to shape their destiny."

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The emotional video begins with a voice-over of some of the comments commonly addressed to these "leftover" women.

"You’re not a kid anymore. Find someone to marry. I won’t die in peace until you’re married. Don’t be so free-willed. She’s stubborn. You’re too picky."

As the ad progresses, the video focuses on a woman who shares her experience. She explains that the Chinese New Year is particularly "the most stressful time."

“Everyone will be asking you – how old are you? Why are you not married? You’re no longer young.

“People think that in Chinese society, an unmarried woman is incomplete. You feel like an outsider.”

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The advert has quite a few unsettling moments. One of these is an uncomfortable scene where a woman's mother explains to the camera why her daughter is still unmarried - while the daughter is in the room.


“We always thought our daughter had a great personality. She’s just average looking. Not too pretty. That’s why she’s leftover.”


Despite the stigma highlighted in the video, Leta Hong Fincher, the author of 'Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China', believes that single Chinese women are at "a real turning point" as many are starting to embrace the single life.

"These are young women with strength and confidence, who are being specifically targeted by the state's deliberate campaign to pressure [them] into marrying," she told the BBC.

"Chinese women today are more educated than ever before and they are increasingly resisting marriage."

Addressing the viral video, in which she was partly consulted, Leta said what makes the video strike a chord is its depiction of "the actual state" of women in China.

"This is the reality and it was told in a very creative, moving and empowering way: that these women are leading great lives in many ways, in being single," she said.

"But the torture experienced by the women in holding out against intense marriage pressure is also extremely real. It reflects the reality of so many young women professionals in China."

Watch the powerful video below:

Sources: youtube.com, bbc.com

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