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No ties, no kids and no regrets

By Chen Meiling | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-24 09:15

[Illustration by Liang Luwen/China Daily]

Katie Peng has been footloose and fancy-free for four years now, and if there is any shadow of regret about her life as a single woman she is certainly not showing it.

In fact it is OK never to marry or have a child if you cannot find a suitable partner, she says, adding that many of her female friends feel the same way. "Chinese society has become more inclusive, because such comment would have been regarded as outrageous and abnormal several years ago," Peng, 30, says.

The last time she had a boyfriend was in 2016, and in recent years all her former boyfriends have married and some have children, but she has made peace with it.

"As a small girl I had a vision of marrying and being blissfully happy, but when I got to 25 and was earning quite a bit of money I realized you don't have to marry if you don't want to. After all, there's more than one road to happiness."

Peng, a public relations worker for an internet company in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, says her annual salary is now 400,000 yuan ($59,200), 10 times what it was nine years ago. She rents a 65-square-meter apartment. On weekends she dines out with friends.

She moved to the city last year after living in Beijing for 11 years, to "jump out of my comfort zone" and "to explore more possibilities". Asked if she plans to buy a house and establish a family there, she says no, because many different things could happen in her life.

In traditional Chinese culture, those reaching the age of 30 are expected to settle down to marital life after having had a few career achievements. However, more and more modern women are refusing to fit in with that stereotype.

Peng says she has no fears of remaining single; the thing that really worries her is marrying the wrong man.

She tells of the blind date she once had with a Beijinger who had been recommended to her by a workmate. When they met, the man's first question was:"When do you plan to quit work?" He explained that he was a very busy man and that the woman he married would need to dedicate all of her time to looking after her family.

She felt angry about it at the time, she says, but now laughs it off, saying: "He did nothing wrong. We just failed to make a deal."

She sees the prospect of child raising and all it brings-"infant dairy formula, nannies, toys and training courses"-as the ultimate joy killer.

"The more time, effort and money you devote to children, the less is left for you. I can never see myself tightening my belt for that kind of lifestyle."

The high cost of raising children and the prospect of having to forgo a relaxed, comfortable life are some of the things that young people find so scary about marriage. The proportion of one-person families in China rose from 6 percent in 1990 to 14.6 percent in 2013 and 16.7 percent in 2018, the Ministry of Civil Affairs says. There are now 240 million Chinese adults of marriageable age who are either single or divorced.

Peng says she is not worried about leading a single life because new services or products will emerge to meet the demands of single seniors, such as apartments in Japan for older people. She has not abandoned the idea of finding romance, either, or indeed of eventually having children, and has plans to have her eggs kept in cold storage overseas.

Many Chinese regard 30 as a deadline for women to give birth, bearing in mind what for them the optimal reproductive age is, so many women around that age feel intense and sometimes unrelenting pressure, often from their parents, to find a spouse as soon as possible.

A single woman may be highly educated and have a highly successful career, but in many people's minds the fact that she is unmarried will offset those positive aspects, says Zeng Xiangmin, a professor at the Television School, Communication University of China.

This year the TV show San Shi Er Yi (Merely Thirty) has caused a stir in China. Its success has largely been attributed to its resonating deeply with the anxiety of women facing multiple pressures in modern times, Zeng says.

But with the rising awareness of independence and economic confidence among women in China, some have chosen to ignore others' expectations and instead stick to their academic or occupational development.

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