dotsIn China, Valentine’s Day (or Qixi) is celebrated on August 13. I have heard people quip that in the US, Valentine’s Day should be renamed Singles Awareness Day. In China, though, that’s not just a joke.

At Quartz, Lily Quo posted a photo essay, “What being single on Chinese Valentine’s Day looks like.”  Remember those walls of photos posted after 9/11 by friends and family members looking for people still missing after the attack? Some of the pictures reminded me of that (though, of course, without the death themes).

The first photo shows a glut of personal ads posted publicly in Shanghai’s People’s Square. Each personal ad includes a number at the top in a big, bold font – that’s the date of the available person’s birth. The last photo also shows a wall of profiles posted by single people looking for partners – the sheer number of postings is staggering.

In between were other photos with captions that took my breath away. For example:

  • “Parents hold up a sign listing their single daughter’s age, height, weight, and phone number.”
  • “A man gets a woman’s contact information by snapping a photo of her QR code.”

The Chinese parents focus on their daughters’ age because the pressures to be married before 30 are intense. Those who are still single in their mid-20s are known as “leftovers.”

Happily, there is some push-back. Joy Chen wrote the book, “Do not marry before age 30” (available in both Chinese and English) and it became a bestseller. ABC News described it as a “sensation among a new class of working women in China, some of the best educated in the world.”

The new single women of China also have their own answer to the “leftover” label – they instead call themselves “single nobles.” They are “a new class of marriage-age women with professional careers…who are rejecting the constraints of the past [and] electing to stay single.”

Sociology professor Dudley Poston told ABC that these new single women can engage in sexual activities with less stigma or shame than in the past. Also, “they can travel, so they don’t have to be messing around with mothers-in-law, who treat the young bride, some as young as 15 and 16, as a slave…They manage their own money.”

I think it may be fair to say that in many places around the globe, single people are at the center of social change.

Chinese woman image available from Shutterstock.