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What It's Like To Be A "Leftover Person" In China

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    Photographed by Eric Michael Johnson.


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    In China, the most offensive thing to call a millennial isn't a profanity — it's "leftover." Thanks to a serious gender imbalance and a massive migration from the countryside to the cities, fewer young Chinese people are getting married — and China's government is worried about it.

    The population of unmarried adults, according to the latest national census, reached 249 million in 2010. Decades of a one-child policy and a culture that favors boys over girls has also taken its toll: by 2020, the Chinese State Population and Family Planning Commission estimates that there will be 30 million more men seeking wives than there are women to marry them.

    All this, plus family pressures to settle down and have children have made the fear of becoming a shengnan or shengnu — a"leftover man" or "leftover woman” — something millennials face the second they receive their college degree. Generally, unmarried women over the age of 27 are considered shengnu, but the age varies by city. Shanghai is one of the loneliest cities for single women, according to a survey conducted by Jiayuan, a leading dating website in China.

    To avoid ending up at the bottom of the barrel, many Chinese millennials have turned to a centuries-old tradition: matchmaking. But like much of modern China, it's now all about the bigger, the better; from reality shows where participants can vote each other off with the press of a button to matchmaking expos marketed to singles and their parents on the prowl.

    But these matchmaking expos are certainly not for the faint of heart. At a expo in Hangzhou, women were forced to scrub off their makeup before entering the building so that men could enjoy a "bare-faced meeting." Next up was a session that let men measure their potential match's breasts. (Yep, it's exactly what it sounds like.)

    These expos must be seen to be believed — which is why Refinery29 headed to one of the biggest just a week before Chinese Valentine's Day to check it out for ourselves. Follow along as we lift the curtain on modern love in China at the 24th Matchmaking Festival in Shanghai.

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  2. Photographed by Eric Michael Johnson.


  3. Photographed by Eric Michael Johnson.


  4. Photographed by Eric Michael Johnson.


  5. Photographed by Eric Michael Johnson.


  6. Photographed by Eric Michael Johnson.