In China, where marriage at a young age has long been the norm, women who remain unattached in their prime often find themselves under pressure to seek a husband.
Students at Yangzhou University in East China's Jiangsu province indulge in pillow fights as they prepare to mark Singles' Day on Friday.[Photo/China Daily]
However, for 30-year-old Zhou Xin, a website editor from Zhengzhou city in north China,there is no hurry.
On Singles Day, which falls on Friday, a large lonely hearts party with the theme of "casting off the single status on Singles Day" will be organized in the city's downtown area, but that does not appeal to Zhou.
"I think most of the people attending that kind of party are just there to amuse themselves instead of looking for a serious relationship. I prefer to let things happen naturally and I would like to wait for my Mr Right with patience," says Zhou.
"My parents used to set me up with people, and I was forced to go on blind dates many times, but none of them worked out," Zhou continues, adding that she is actually at ease with single life right now.
"Though I feel some pressure, I see no harm with being single. I would rather stay unattached than end up married to a man I don't really love," she explains.
Zhou is not alone. Experts say there is a growing number of single women in China who are learning to embrace single life, and the "leftover women" phenomenon can be seen as a reflection of Chinese women ascending in social status.
In recent years, Chinese media has been buzzing with stories about urban single woman like Zhou, so-called "shengnu" which translates to "leftover women."
The All-China Women's Federation defines the leftover women as single women above the age of 27. The Chinese Ministry of Education included the term in its official lexicon in 2007.
In a survey of 30,000 men, more than 90 percent said women should marry before 27 to avoid becoming unwanted, according to a survey conducted by the All-China Women's Federation.
In a country where the sex ratio at birth has increasingly skewed toward men since the 1980s, the situation may seem to favor women. Numbers from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that China's sex ratio of male to female at birth was 118.06 to 100 in 2010.
However, the country's long-held tradition of marriage hypergamy, a practice in which women pair off with men of equal or higher income, education and age, means that the most highly educated women often end up without partners, explains Li Yinhe, a renowned sexologist with the Chinese Social Sciences Academy.
Some experts see leftover women as a triumph of feminism. Zhu Fuqiang, a professor from Zhongshan University in Guangdong province, says the phenomenon is partly due to Chinese women's newly achieved freedom of choice in marriage, which is a result of the improvement of women's economic status.
Zhu says, in the traditional agrarian culture, women relied on their husband for a living. However, in the modern society, the fairer sex have won more independence both economically and socially.
"Women have access to higher education and many have been given the chance to compete with men in the work place, and they do not need to attach their livelihood and happiness to men," Zhu says.
The leftover women can be seen as a reflection of the rise of individualism and gender equality in Chinese society, Zhu adds.
Wang Mingmei, a researcher with Jiangxi Social Sciences Academy, says, Chinese women are becoming ever more aware of their rights, including the right to choose in terms of love and marriage.
"It takes courage and a strong character to challenge the old social law," Wang says. "The fact that more and more women would stay single at a marriageable age is a sign of their emancipation and social development."
Experts also note the rise of individualism reflected by leftover women is often at odds with traditional Chinese values that put heavy emphasis on marriage and family.
In a culture like China's, where mainstream society continues to attach great importance to progeny and establishing family, most people would expect women to marry early, and more importantly, to have given birth to a child to carry on the family name, Li Yinhe says.
"Many Chinese people, especially the elderly, would consider the choice to stay single an act of being unfilial," she explains. "Those who see single life as bliss are in a small minority and most single women are looking for an end to their single lives."
Li believes that there will be a growing tolerance toward leftover women in Chinese society and women will be more comfortable with being unattached.
"Pluralism is the trend of social development," she goes on. "I hope that there will be a day people are allowed to live their life the way they want without others picking on them. At that time, being single will not be seen as an issue any more."