Rural Youth Set Sights Beyond the Village

Featured - Society & Culture, Society & Culture — By on June 17, 2011 6:02 am
Youth in rural

Wu Jinxing, 18, has the support of his uncle, Ding Weigang, in his decision to someday leave their rural hometown. Photo by Emily Mitis

By Jessica Schwartz

Like teens in the United States, 18-year-old Wu Jinxing relishes the idea of leaving home someday. Unlike even his peers elsewhere in China, however, Wu, who was born and raised in Xiejiaqiao, a rural village of 800 residents outside Hangzhou, might not have a choice if he wants to find a wife or a job outside the farming industry.

Known for its pecan-farming, Xiejiaqiao now claims only about 20 residents in Wu’s age range, which is one reason why the village’s youth typically end up heading for the promise of prospective partners and career opportunities in the region’s bigger cities. However, because of recent legislation restricting childbirth, Wu might encounter difficulties finding a wife in the city as well.

Since the enactment of the One Child Policy in the late 1970s, China’s demographics have been changing significantly. With social preferences toward birthing a son who can carry on the family name, the number of male births now far exceeds the number of female births.

Lee Ying, executive manager of Women’s Watch, a Beijing-based NGO, reported that for every 118 males born in China, only 100 females are born. At this rate, there will be 30 million single men in China in the near future.

Although rural families are allowed to bear two children if the first-born is female, keeping the male-female ratio relatively even in these areas, the growing imbalance is putting pressure on small town residents to hurry to the big cities in pursuit of a bride.

“I am definitely planning on leaving the village,” Wu said. “I haven’t even thought very much about starting a family, but I know there are more opportunities for me outside Xiejiaqiao.”

Parents in the village also realize the difficulty their children face in finding a partner within the small town. “My son will have to venture out of town,” said Fang Jufen, mother of a 13-year-old male. “He will probably meet Mrs. Right in college—there is a slight chance that it will happen here. There just isn’t enough in the village for him.”

Fang added, “Almost everyone will leave to pursue a job and start a family. Those who fail will come back to the village and continue their family’s farm work.”

Leaving home to seek one’s fortune, fueled by the fear of not finding a partner, hasn’t always been the norm in Xiejiaqiao. Zhu Chengai, 72, a  lifelong resident, met his wife of 45 years because she lived just up the road.

“It was not always this common to leave home,” Zhu said. “We met our partners here and then continued the farming work. Now, it’s a dangerous situation because the younger generation is leaving to enjoy their new freedom of choice and the farming work is left with us.”

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