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One village, 282 bachelors
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665 families, 2,249 people, 282 of them single men. This is Paifang Village, a mountain village at China's southwestern Guizhou Province.

Imbalance gender ratio

Surrounded by mountains and with villagers relying on agriculture for work, the village contains a 134.7:100 male-to-female ratio, well above the 106.3 national average. Many of the single men are over 30, the oldest one reaching 65. To worsen matters, they are only a fraction of the 1,500 bachelors in eight nearby villages.

Searching for brides

Happy weddings have not been held in the village for the past two years, except for those of village cadres. Yang Xuepin, director of the village committee, blames poverty in the first place with low per capita net income of 800 yuan (about US$106) annually from the little cultivated land area due to the high mountains.

Bachelors would like to start a family, but are caught in a dilemma whereby young women are going to work in other places and enjoying better chances of marriage while middle-aged widows already have children.

Dong Xuekui and his younger brother are both bachelors. They borrowed money to build a four-room concrete house. It is of higher quality than other houses in the village but still cannot find wedded bliss even after trying matchmaking arrangements.

Runaway brides

Another group is not included in the number of single men: those left alone by their wives. It is hard to tell how many belong to this group, but such examples can be easily listed by any villager.

Dong Xuekui, 44, still kept his marriage certificate and black-and-white wedding photo. In 1996, his wife left home, leaving him and their eight-month-old son. He has never seen her since.

Even though this wife came from an even poorer place to marry him, she fled after two years due to poor economic conditions. Eleven years have passed, there is still no sign of returning.

This is not a simple case for himself, his brother's wife also ran away nine years ago.

Hard-working single men

Two months ago, Yang Xuepin, director of the village committee, was informed that the county family planning bureau was going to visit the village for inspection. Their first questions were: "How many single men are there in your village? Are there any public security problems?"

Yang Xuepin never knew that the bachelor issue could have security implications. Back in 2004, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population has aroused concern in the international academic community. This book linked bachelors in China and India with public security issues, initiating a public debate.

Every season, the village committee will gather the villagers to teach them the provisions of laws and regulations like the marriage law, the criminal law etc. "Instead of being trouble-makers, bachelors in our village are very supportive to our work," Yang Xuepin commented, but would prefer the family planning bureau help find wives for his bachelors.

Receive education, or else go farming

The old generation would like to stay home, while the younger ones aim for the outside world, viewing education as a possible road out of a farming career. Families are supportive, moving heaven and earth to pay for schooling despite crippling poverty. Youngsters resort to schooling as a means to get rid of farming.

Deng Xueming, 21, is studying at a college in Hunan Province on a yearly loan of 6,000 yuan. When he was at grade six, he once wanted to quit school. His father did not scold the boy, but brought him to the farm the next day. After a day's farm work, the boy went straight back to school.

"We younger generations all want to leave the village. A good education is highly needed; the same is true for girls as well. If we could not seek further education, we would try finding a job in cities," Deng Shijie says. Having graduated from a university in Nanjing, he is about to work in a logistics company in Shanghai. The young man is planning to set up his company within five years while his father still tills the land.

( by Zheng Na, September 24, 2007)

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