The term shengnu has been around for a while. It first appeared online and was listed as one of the 171 new words of 2007 by the Ministry of Education in China. Literally, shengnu means “leftover woman,” but, as a wordplay, it also sounds like “holy goddess.” This term is used by Chinese to refer to single women 25 years or older who have advanced degrees, a successful career, and a decent bank account. According Baidu Baike (the Chinese Wikipedia), the conservative estimate of the number of shengnu‘s in Beijing in 2008 is over 500,000. Shengnu population in other 1st-tier cities is most likely as staggering as that in Beijing. According to Baidu’s unofficial records, in Shanghai, the male-female ratio of single white-collar office workers is 2:8-3:7, and the number in Hong Kong and Shenzhen is 1:7. In many people’s eye, Shengnu‘s are independent, strong, and have higher standards for their husband candidates, which is often one of the reasons for their “leftoverness.” They are just too good for many men.
Initially, shengnu has a derogatory undertone, a creation by ill intended men as some say. But now, many shengnu’s in China have turned the tables and owned the word, with confidence and even pride. This confidence sometimes is based on pure materialist views on relationships and life in general, and itself can be a form of sexism, but it nevertheless is confidence, something Chinese women have been discouraged to have by society and even their families. The Communist Party of China has always claimed to promote gender equality. My parents’ and my generation of Chinese grew up believing “women can hold up half the sky,” a quotation from Mao. But the reality is, women in China have never enjoyed true equality with men socially, economically, or politically. They have been often used as resources by the state such as in 50’s, or sacrificed so men can have resources for economic and political success. Cultually, sexism has never died out in China and seems to be increasingly pervasive in various forms nowadays. Owning shengnu, to many independent single women, is a way to resist and, indeed, a personal triumph over the male dominant society.
The following music video, “No Car, No House,” is a good example of this confidence of shengnu. It features a song sang by a group of shengnu’s. It’s circulated widely on major Chinese video sharing sites such as tudou.com, ku6.com, and youku.com. The lyric is translated below.
Readers in China watch here: http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMjUxNjY3NDY4/v.swf
“No Car, No House”
Golden Shengnu Edition
*Affectionate sunshine/On your face/Take a look at the young men around/Everyone’s like a woman
What a woman wants is a car and a house/Her biggest wish is to marry the right one
I ask you if you have a car and a house/My mom also asks you/How many bank accounts you have
If you don’t have a car/If you don’t have a house/Get out of my way and don’t block
I have a car and I have a house/I also have RMB in the bank
If you’re not as strong as I/Don’t expect me to surport you ’cause I’m not your mother
You don’t have a car/You don’t have a house/Don’t dream to have a hottie in your bed
Don’t pretend to be poor and drive a shabby BMW/Don’t pretend to be a boss and try to keep me *
You don’t have a car/You don’t have a house/And you want to get married and be a groom
If your life is not yet affluent/Why should I go and wonder with you
You say that I’m realistic and I admit it/You accuse me of being materialistic and I won’t be hurt
A man should look like a man/Without a car and a house/Don’t dream of finding a bride