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Wedding Bell Blues

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By Mary Daily

Published Jan 1, 2013 8:00 AM


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In China, women who don't marry young have traditionally been called "leftover" and stigmatized in popular culture. Pressure to marry has led to a high divorce rate—57 percent among couples under 30—and made young women feel trapped.

All this became clear to Chinese-American Joy Chen M.B.A./M.A. '98 while she was working as an executive recruiter in the U.S. and Chinese markets, and clients claimed that young Chinese were "unpromotable." Chen, a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles, found that Chinese candidates lacked the people skills to succeed in large companies, mostly because they lacked mentors and were trained to focus on exams and other measures of individual success.

So two years ago, Chen launched a blog called Global Rencai (Chinglish for "global talent") for men and women to learn how to "joyfully succeed in the global economy." Global Rencai is now the most popular blog among young Chinese people outside of China.

Chen's book, Do Not Marry Before Age 30, is a best-seller in China. The author hopes it gives readers "a sense of possibility for their lives and encourages them to maintain a sense of self" in addition to the other roles they play in life, which may or may not include marriage.

Last summer, though, when Chen traveled with her young family (she has two daughters) to China to promote the book, she was surprised to find that her audiences were 40-percent male. "The men are hungry for romantic love," she believes. "Chinese relationships have traditionally been built on responsibility, with no tradition of romantic love."

Chen, also a popular motivational speaker on the skills needed to thrive in a changing economy, finds the phenomenon of "leftover women" a fascinating lens through which to examine the many changes under way in Chinese society. "Young women are at the crux of old and new," she explains. "They wear the latest Western fashion—Gucci and Louis Vuitton—yet they're constrained by pressures that are thousands of years old."

The grandmothers of today's young women literally couldn't leave home, she says, because their feet were bound. "But for this generation, it's their hearts and souls that are restricted."

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