1 The price of marriage in China (Brook Larmer in The New York Times) Three decades of combustive economic growth have reshaped the landscape of marriage in China. A generation ago, China was one of the world’s most equal nations, in both gender and wealth. Most people were poor, and tight controls over housing, employment, travel and family life simplified the search for a suitable match — what the Chinese call mendang hudui, meaning roughly “family doors of equal size.”
China’s transition to a market economy has swept away many restrictions in people’s lives. But of all the new freedoms the Chinese enjoy today — making money, owning a house, choosing a career — there is one that has become an unexpected burden: seeking a spouse. This may be a time of sexual and romantic liberation in China, but the solemn task of finding a husband or wife is proving to be a vexing proposition for rich and poor alike.
The confusion surrounding marriage in China reflects a country in frenzied transition. Sharp inequalities of wealth have created new fault lines in society, while the largest rural-to-urban migration in history has blurred many of the old ones. As many as 300 million rural Chinese have moved to cities in the last three decades. Uprooted and without nearby relatives to help arrange meetings with potential partners, these migrants are often lost in the swell of the big city.
Demographic changes, too, are creating complications. Not only are many more Chinese women postponing marriage to pursue careers, but China’s gender gap — 118 boys are born for every 100 girls — has become one of the world’s widest, fueled in large part by the government’s restrictive one-child policy. By the end of this decade, Chinese researchers estimate, the country will have a surplus of 24 million unmarried men.
Single men have a hard time making the list if they don’t own a house or an apartment, which in cities like Beijing are extremely expensive. And despite the gender imbalance, Chinese women face intense pressure to be married before the age of 28, lest they be rejected and stigmatized as “leftover women.”
2 When dad is absent (Jackie May in Johannesburg Times) A friend once told me the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother. There are obvious benefits: harmony in the home and good romantic role modelling for the children. Between 1996 and 2010 there was an increase in absent living fathers in South Africa from 41.6% to 47.4%. That’s almost half of fathers who don’t live with their children, and who don’t share the daily responsibility of taking care of their children.
I’ve seen how fathers, who don’t actively parent, if they can afford it, send a cellphone as a gift once a year or buy clothes for their children at Christmas time. But these rare acts of generosity don’t replace the parenting that is lost when parents don’t live at home. I have seen the bitterness that creeps in after years of receiving gifts without real caring. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in a piece for this week’s Time magazine wrote that “a truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes”.
Her book Lean In has caused a stir in the US, with women criticising her for being an elitist, but her words and advice are wise: “We need men to lean into their families more, especially since research has consistently found that children with involved and loving fathers have higher levels of psychological wellbeing and better cognitive abilities”. For men to take more care of their children may mean giving up alcohol, girlfriends, power or whatever it is that makes them absent. But they might find they actually enjoy the job, and we know that society would certainly benefit from it.
3 ‘Decline’ of India Muslims (Irfan Husain in Dawn) Traditionally, Muslims in India were urban, with rulers from the Sultanate period to the Mughals settling in cities that were expanded and beautified. Even when they began acquiring jagirs or large rural estates, the aristocrats were reluctant to move far from the seats of power. In his magisterial The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple documents the dismantling of the Indian Muslim aristocracy in the bloody aftermath of the revolution of 1857.
Even though Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal, was a reluctant figurehead for the anti-British movement, the Muslim community as a whole was held responsible by a vengeful British Empire. Entire neighbourhoods in Delhi were levelled, and thousands of Muslim hanged, shot or blown from the mouths of canons. Many others, including Bahadur Shah, were exiled to die in penury.
Traumatised, Muslims turned inwards. As western education became a requirement for government jobs, few Muslims could compete. Psychologically, many traditional Muslims felt they would be formally acknowledging their defeat by accepting the ways of their conquerors. Hindus, on the other hand, had no such hang-ups and were soon manning many positions in the bureaucracy.
When partition came, a large section of the Muslim leadership and the professional class moved to the newly created state of Pakistan. Tensions and wars between India and Pakistan did nothing to improve the lot of Indian Muslims who were suspected by the majority of secretly supporting Pakistan. Even though the present generation is largely indifferent to their neighbour, their religion still sets them apart. Indeed, watching the rising tide of violence here, several Muslim readers from India have expressed their relief that their families stayed put in 1947.
An Economist article asks: “… are Muslims better off? Wajahat Habibullah, who heads the National Commission for Minorities in Delhi sees only faint reasons for cheer. Muslims in India outperform their neighbours in Pakistan on some social indicators, such as having lower fertility rates and infant mortality, and higher literacy and life expectancy.” But sadly, comparisons with the national average for India present a far bleaker picture.