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He wants a wife, of course. But ask what kind of woman he seeks and Duan Biansheng looks perplexed. There are dozens of single men in Banzhushan village, perched high on a remote mountain peak in central Hunan province — and not one unattached woman of marriageable age. Tens of millions of men across China face a future as bachelors. They are a source of pity, not envy, in a country where having children is central to life. Duan worries about growing old with no one to care for him.
He chafes at the unhelpful pressure to wed from his parents and neighbours. The worst thing of all is the loneliness. This is the perverse outcome of the country's longstanding preference for sons, and its sudden modernisation. Traditionally, the family line is passed via men. When a woman marries, she s her husband's family. Having a boy is a cultural and a pragmatic choice: you expect him to continue your lineage and support you in old age. The result has long been a surplus of men, because of female infanticide or excess female deaths through neglect.
But in the last 20 years, the problem has exploded thanks to the spread of prenatal scans. The normal human birth ratio is males for every females. In China, that has risen to boys. That means 30 to 50 million men will fail to find wives over the next two decades, according to Prof Li Shuzhuo of the institute for population and development studies at Xi'an Jiaotong University.
Experts have warned that these unmarried "bare branches" pose a threat to social stability. Some suggest that excess men le to more crime and sexual violence; officials have warned of increased women trafficking. Already, women are kidnapped and sold as wives, as villagers in Banzhushan acknowledge. Other commentators say that while some women are at greater risk, many will benefit from better treatment due to their scarcity. Crime is not higher in high sex ratio areas, but it may be too early [to see the effects]. Women want to marry men with money or prospects.
The situation is good for women. Poverty is as much to blame for "bachelor villages" as the skewed sex ratio. Women can improve their status by "marrying up"; men are rarely able to do so. Girls born in poor areas leave and outsiders stay away. In late summer, Banzhushan — "chestnut bamboo mountain" — is mesmerisingly beautiful. Large brown butterflies flutter among the tallow trees as you gaze down into deep valleys.
But it is simply too remote to be a good home, even to its residents. They struggle to grow enough potatoes, maize and rice to feed themselves.
Pieces of plastic and cardboard flap across the glass-free windows of tatty brick houses. In winter, thick snows can cut off the village for two weeks at a time. Conditions here are far better than 20 years ago. The long, steep path to the village has been bulldozed into a road and there is electricity, mobile phone and TV coverage.
The government has even built a two-storey community centre, shining white amid the pines and bamboo. It is easier to learn about the outside world and easier to move away, and local improvements have been far outpaced by the rapid changes elsewhere. Transport was bad everywhere. Now the ro down there are better but up here, it's still the same. Some guys even met women outside, but when they came and saw our houses and how poor we are, they just went away. Jin longs for a grandchild — "everyone else is holding theirs" — but says she does not dare to hope for one.
She encouraged her two sons to move to Shenzhen in search of money and wives but her eldest, now 32, is still single. Even when men become migrant workers, they lack the education to find decent jobs, said the village's party secretary, Jin Yisong.
I really don't know how to do it," he said. Duan's eldest brother took the rare step of marrying into another village, moving away to his bride's family. The next eldest brother is working as a migrant labourer, but at 40 has yet to find a wife. His sister married a man from a richer, lower-lying area. I don't think there's any hope for me.
But he does not blame himself, he said.
There is little he can do. There are tens of us in this situation. It is a truth universally acknowledged in China that a single man must be in want of a house. Zhang and co-author Shang-Jin Wei, of Columbia University, believe China's skewed sex ratio is pushing up property prices and leading to "competitive saving" as the parents of boys vie to buy better property.
Zhang, of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, cites the example of a farmer in Guizhou province who was selling his blood to pay for a large new house. Almost all the young men or women go out as migrant workers," said Zhang.
A controversial new decision from the country's top court — giving the spouse who buys a house before marriage the right to keep it after divorce — may help change attitudes. Zhang said that in cities like Beijing, a growing of couples pool resources anyway: prices are too high for one set of parents to cover the cost.
This article is more than 9 years old. Surplus of males caused by preference for sons means poor subsistence farmers have no chance of finding a mate. Duan Biansheng, one of many unmarried men in the 'bachelor village' of Banzhushan in Hunan province. Photograph: Tania Branigan. Tania Branigan in Banzhushan, Hunan.
Sex-selective abortion is illegal, but is clearly widely practised. It is equivalent to every male in the UK dying a bachelor. But these developments have worsened the predicament for bachelors. Only Duan is left to look after his parents. It was, thought the man, the only chance of finding his son a bride.
Additional research by Han Cheng. Reuse this content.Wife wants real sex Village of the Branch
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