- Chinese women who are single after the age of 27 face stigma, and are often described as “leftover.”
- Some wealthy single women fight that stigma by flaunting their wealth on social media.
- “They want to claim their status of self-sufficiency and independence,” an expert told Insider.
Mini wakes up every morning in her large bedroom, where the automated curtains open up to an expansive view of the Chinese city of Chengdu.
After slapping on expensive skincare and makeup products — with luxury products prominently displayed on the countertop — the business consultant then heads off to get her hair blow-dried at a salon or grabs a decadent lunch with her girlfriends.
That’s the premise of many of her videos on China’s Instagram-like platform Xiaohongshu, where she has garnered more than 101,000 followers since launching her account last year.
At first glance, her posts look like the thousands of other glamorous lifestyle videos seen on the platform. But something stands out: Many of her video titles highlight her age and the fact that she is single.
Framing the posts this way is perhaps surprising in a country with a history of stigma surrounding single women and particularly older single women. The Chinese term sheng nu, or “leftover women,” is often used to describe women who haven’t married by the age of 27, suggesting that they are unwanted.
But Mini, who declined to give her full name, told Insider she posts videos like this because she wants to be a “source of inspiration for other single women.”
“I want to show them that just because you’re single doesn’t mean you can’t lead a fulfilling and wonderful life,” she continued. “People always say certain things about older single women — that they’re undesirable or useless members of society. I want to show them that that’s so far from the truth.”
And Mini is not the only one.
A growing number of Chinese women have taken to social media to show that they can be older, unmarried, and still lead fabulous lives. The trend indicates changing attitudes about what it means to be a successful woman in China, which does not necessarily involve having a husband.
A search on Xiaohongshu for “older single women,” for example, throws up dozens of accounts from women showing off exotic vacation snapshots and expensive handbags — all with video captions highlighting that they are single.
A user who goes by Yang Potato shared a video titled “33 and unmarried— what does she do every day?” in which she takes her 1,300 followers on a tour of her condo’s pool and spa. The rest of her account is flooded with pictures of herself trying on opulent jewelry and modeling different outfits, including a series of photos with a Prada handbag on one shoulder and a Chanel shopping bag in her hand.
National University of Singapore sociologist Mu Zheng told Insider: “I don’t think the stigma surrounding single women has entirely gone away in China, but it has largely been alleviated by some single women’s often independent and successful socio-economic profile.”
Call it the she-conomy: According to a 2019 report from investment services company Accenture, Chinese women aged 20 to 60 now account for $1.5 trillion in purchasing power.
That increased purchasing power has allowed more and more women to reevaluate whether they’d like to pursue the traditional path of marriage and family.
“Staying single has increasingly become an intentional and voluntary decision rather than an involuntary and forced status,” she added.
According to an October 2021 survey of China’s urban young population completed by China’s Communist Youth League, close to half of all young women living in the city don’t plan on getting married. Last week, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs reported that only 7.63 million marriages were registered in 2021, the lowest since China began keeping records in 1986. That’s down from 8.13 million marriages the year before, and a peak of 13.47 million in 2013, according to government statistics.
Wealth equals success, regardless of your marital status
Even if some women are not flaunting their buying power on public social media accounts, they are regularly sending photo updates directly to their family members, a 2021 study on the stigma surrounding single Chinese women found.
Ultimately, the goal is the same: To prove that they can afford to live comfortably — and are therefore perceived as a successful member of society — despite being unwed.
“These photographs act as visual evidence that ostensibly stigmatized sheng nu women are enjoying themselves and thus helps to ease their parents’ concerns,” Lancaster University’s Liu Chih-ling, a co-author of the study, told Insider.
This is precisely what a Guangzhou-based hotel restaurant manager, who wishes to be known only as Shanshan, hopes to achieve through updates on her private WeChat account, which is limited to her 170 closest friends and family members.
Besides regularly posting photos of her holiday travels across Asia, the 39-year-old is not shy about sharing pictures of her latest luxury purchases on the platform, including her new pair of Miu Miu sunglasses.
“My relatives cannot tell my parents that I’m a failure of a daughter just because I’m single, because it’s clear that I’m not. I’m living well on my own, and all of them can see it on my WeChat,” she told Insider.
Mu is not surprised by the uptick in the trend among some single women.
“They want to claim their status of self-sufficiency and independence, to show that their happiness and quality of life do not need to depend on marriage or anyone else,” she told Insider. “‘Showing off’ is an effective way for them to claim their stance and attitudes.”
Liu noted that it is not possible for all single Chinese women to demonstrate extravagant spending powers. “But for those who can, a new sense of economic liberty helps to define themselves and their place in Chinese society,” she said.
From ‘marrying well’ to being ‘the architect of your own success’
This viewpoint is echoed in pop culture, with Chinese television shows popularizing new definitions of what it means to be a successful woman in China.
This is significant, given how young female audiences look to TV role models not just for entertainment but also for life lessons, researchers at American research firm Bernstein said in their study last year on Chinese TV role models.
“Many of the female role models in Chinese TV series in recent years have something in common: They are young, beautiful, well-educated, and financially independent,” the researchers wrote. “They have accumulated wealth through their well-paid jobs in business and management. Many of them are single and have their own properties and cars.”
In a now-viral scene from the 2020 drama series “Nothing But Thirty,” for instance, a woman gets cropped out of a group photo because she is the only one in the group not carrying a Hermes Birkin or Kelly handbag. She eventually wins over the approval of the other women when she buys her own Birkin.
“The expectation of a successful woman has moved from ‘marrying well’ to ‘be the architect of your own success,” said the Bernstein researchers.
Despite the way her Xiaohongshu posts are framed, however, Mini wants to make it clear that she’s not against the idea of marriage entirely.
“I’m not saying, ‘I don’t want or need a man,'” she told Insider. “I’m saying, ‘I can be single and be happy too.'”