An Academic’s Answer to China’s Bachelor Crisis: Wife Sharing

The country has 34 million more men than women.
(Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Oct 24, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

China’s one-child policy and a preference for male children has left the world’s most populous nation in a serious bind: too many bachelors, not enough eligible women.

One economics professor has presented a controversial solution to the country’s demographic crisis: wife sharing, or polyandry, as it’s called in academic circles.

“If legalized, polyandry would be a perfect solution for satisfying the sexual needs of 30 million single men—which might be one of the key factors contributing to social unrest,” Xie Zuoshi, a professor at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, wrote in a blog post obtained and translated by the South China Morning Post. Xie noted that wife sharing is already a common practice among men in rural villages, as the “value of women [is] going up.”

Some angry users of Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, called the suggestion “degenerative” and “shameless.” Of the 7,700 people who weighed in on an ongoing poll about the suggestion on Weibo, 66 percent disagree with Xie, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.

China’s regulations regarding population control led to sex-selective abortions of female fetuses—and one of the most skewed male to female ratios in the world. Aborting female fetuses spiked in the 1970s with the advancement of ultrasound technology. The Chinese government banned sex determination in the late 1980s, forbidding doctors from telling expecting parents the gender of their unborn child. But that hasn’t stopped doctors from doing so anyway, and some rural communities have gone so far as to purchase their own ultrasound machine to determine the sex of the child, The Telegraph reports.

The birth ratio is beginning to level off, but the past three decades of sex-selective abortion have done their damage. According to China’s 2010 census, men outnumber women by 34 million, and many of those men are reaching marrying age.

The problem is greater than millions of sexually frustrated bachelors, according to Xie. “Serious social problems, such as rape and assaults, will happen if men cannot find wives,” Xie wrote.

Along with increasing women’s risk of sexual assault, kidnapping, and forced marriage, according to demographers, the gender imbalance also affects the country’s social structure and economy. Experts note that male criminal behavior declines upon marriage; unhappy bachelors are likely to form gangs and are more prone to substance abuse. What’s more, without a female partner, these men won’t have children of their own to replenish China’s population.

Despite the gravity of the problem, women’s rights advocates reason that Xie’s idea promotes gender inequality by focusing solely on men’s needs.

“The solutions are still very much male-centered,” Jing Xiong, a project manager with the Chinese women’s rights group Media Monitor for Women Network, told BBC News. “Professor Xie’s suggestion ignores the wishes and rights of women, and casts women as tools used to satisfy men’s needs for sex, marriage and reproduction...this suggestion is basically sexual discrimination.”

However Xie seems to be brushing off any criticism. “Any reasonable person applying critical thinking will come to the same conclusion,” Xie wrote.