China / Hot Issues

'Single dogs' facing an age of abuse

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily) Updated: 2016-01-20 08:14

The easing of China's family planning policy marks a turnaround for the fate of one particular demographic - singles of marriageable age are no longer rewarded for staying put at that status. The pressures to tie the knot are now official and the foreseeable future may bring worse news, such as the so-called "singles tax" as adopted in South Korea.

When news from our neighbor reached us a year ago that singles aged 32-49 and with a certain income level or above would have to pay the equivalent of 1,000 yuan ($152) in additional tax, Chinese denizens joked about it. (Technically, it was not a tax, but the lack of qualification for some tax benefits.) Anyway, it was a financial means to "abuse the single dog", in Chinese social-media parlance.

Now, calling someone a "dog" is an insult in Chinese culture. But "single dog" as a popular meme has been in vogue mainly as a self-deprecating term for this group. Overlapping coinages include "pubic hair" and "leftover women", which are obviously more disparaging. I don't know whether it's the same as some ethnic slurs used by that ethnicity itself, but I would suggest those with spouses or regular dates refrain from the usage.

Single dogs are hurt by any reminder of peers sharing quality time together. An innocuous photo of a night on the town with someone else might raise the green monster of envy. And forget about Valentine's Day or any occasion when lovers are supposed to buy each other gifts or dinners. Singles have much time to themselves, so the most salient quality is said to be a lightning speed to respond to texting. Suppose you send out "Wanna grab a bite?" to a dozen people. If you get a "Where?" in two seconds, that friend of yours fits the bill as a card-carrying "single dog".

'Single dogs' facing an age of abuse

Good thing China's bachelors and bachelorettes have developed a gallows humor. Many of the jokes are at their own expense and not fit for print on this newspaper. The following conversation could be a borderline case: Bachelor: "I don't feel good because my wife is ill." Bachelorette: "I'm even worse because my hubby has come down. What happened to her?" Bachelor: "She's deflated. And yours?" Bachelorette: "A power leak."

So far, social pressure for those available for the institution comes from family and friends. Come Chinese New Year, all the little puppies on home visits would be hammered with non-stop nagging from aging parents and childhood friends whose children are already in grade school. But don't despair. It could be worse.

The 2015 European black comedy The Lobster is about an Orwellian future in which singles are put away in a hotel and given 45 days to find a romantic partner. If they fail, they are turned into an animal of their own choosing. The protagonist chooses the lobster for its longevity, hence the title.

Now I can imagine a backlash when singles fight for their rights to be on their own and marriage is depicted as corrupting.

Hot Topics