A Shanghaiist interview with Leta Hong Fincher wanders into
inspiring delicate territory:
… in 2007, China’s State Council came out with a very important population decision. They announced that China had a severe problem with the so-called “low quality” of the population, that it’s going to cause problems for China in the future, in the global marketplace, that it’s going to affect China’s ability to compete with other nations, because the quality of the population is too low. So they made it an urgent priority to “upgrade population quality” (tigao renkou suzhi). And then they designated certain agencies to be the primary implementers of the goal of upgrading population quality. One of the agencies they named was the Women’s Federation. And they also named the Public Security Bureau. Shortly after that population decision, the state media suddenly came out with all these Leftover Women media reports, news reports cartoons, commentaries, columns, and it was just ubiquitous.
And then, the Women’s Federation defined the term and the Ministry of Education adopted the term shengnü [or ‘leftover woman’] as part of its official lexicon. And it’s just amazing when you look at these reports and cartoons just how little they vary. Fundamentally it’s the same message, kind of reworded. It’s the same theme over and over again, year after year.
The basic message is targeting urban, educated, successful, professional women. And it shows these women as being too picky. They’re too focused on their careers. They’re overly ambitious. If they simply lowered their sights, and made more compromises, then they would easily find a man to marry. So it’s the woman’s fault that they are not getting married, that their standards are too high. And then there are a wide variety of insults hurled at these women: that they don’t like sex, that they’re afraid of commitment.
And I noticed that they are evolving. The propaganda machine is evolving now to include single, divorced mothers. Just a few months ago, I noticed Xinhua News came out with something talking about how single, divorced mothers also have an obligation to go out and get married again and that they shouldn’t use their children as an excuse not to get married. They also have a new category of so-called leftover women which is single female homeowners. They say that single women lull themselves into a false sense of security by buying a home of their own. In fact this is going to make it even more difficult for them to find a husband.
All of this is really tightening its hold on this group of urban, educated, professional women. And why are they focusing on these women? It’s because these women have, in the view of the government, higher quality. The government has a tradition of eugenics. These educated urban women are seen as having higher quality, but these are the very women who are choosing to delay marriage because they want to pursue their educations, because they want to pursue their careers. It’s a very natural thing to do and that’s what women around China are doing. In South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, and even Hong Kong, women are delaying their age of first marriage and some of them are even rejecting marriage altogether.
And so the Chinese government feels this urgency, I believe, that they need to stop this trend. They have to get these educated women to get married and have a child because they see this as the basic function of a woman. Her duty to the nation is to have a child. But they are focusing on educated women. They’re not encouraging the illiterate rural woman to have children, because those women are considered to be of “low quality”.
This elementary common sense is supposed to be appalling beyond comprehension, of course.
ADDED: Bernard Harcourt on Michel Foucault on Gary Becker — Now, Foucault refers to this … specific danger around page 228 of the English translation of his lectures when he talks about eugenics, the problem of eugenics. And he says, “as soon as a society poses itself the problem of the improvement of its human capital in general,” that is, once we have a theory of human capital, and once we view the important issue as being improvement of human capital, that “it is inevitable that the problem of control, screening, and improvement of the human capital of individuals … [is] called for.”