New book explores perils of China’s gender gap

Could China’s gender imbalance, unprecedented in world history, lead to the CCP becoming more authoritarian? That’s the somewhat radical thesis of a book reviewed in today’s New York Times.

Generations of Chinese have called them “bare branches”: poor young men who face a future without marriage or children, reflections of a society with more men than women. Now some political scientists who have been studying skewed sex ratios in places like India and China argue that advances in fetal sex-selection technology have helped produce a new, unusually large generation of unattached young men who hold the potential for violent social unrest within their own countries and beyond their borders.

Demographers and feminist scholars have written widely in the last decade about the plight of China’s missing girls, while criminologists know that violence is disproportionately associated with young, single men. But a controversial new book, “Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population” (M.I.T. Press), goes one step further, connecting these strands with a government’s calculation of how peaceful it can afford to be.

If these young men cannot find wives or jobs or become a viable part of their societies, the book argues, they can pose a threat to internal stability and make governments more likely to create military campaigns to absorb and occupy these youths.

“It should have been an issue 5 or 10 years ago as well, but it becomes even more important today because the technologies that make prenatal sex selection possible only began to be prevalent in Asia in the mid- to late-1980’s,” said Andrea M. den Boer, a research fellow in the department of politics and international relations at the University of Kent, in England, who is a co-author of the book with Valerie M. Hudson, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University. “We are currently on the threshold of a time in which these young men are becoming a volatile social force that will attract the attention of the government. And each successive year, the birth sex ratio got worse, so the problem itself becomes worse with every passing year.”

It’s an intriguing topic, the effect of sex ratios on war and peace and social stability. As the reviewer says, due to political correctness it’s a subject that’s usually avoided. Anyone following the subject of China’s (and India’s) gender gap should read the review, and probably the book as well.

Thanks to the reader who emailed me about this article; it’s appreciated.

The Discussion: 9 Comments

Just a quick note to point out that your link points to page 2 of the article.

July 4, 2004 @ 12:11 am | Comment

Fixed, thanks.

July 4, 2004 @ 11:56 am | Comment

The gender gap problem is probably compounded by the fact that many Chinese women leave China to work as prostitutes in other countries.

July 4, 2004 @ 8:44 pm | Comment

… or that many Chinese women leave their hometowns to work as prositutes in big Chinese cities. China may be becoming ever more open, but i am just guessing that some people’s way of life will unfortunately leave them without many suitors when they come to be 30-something. I don’t blame them of course. The entire system (male-female, city-countryside, rich-poor: all of these relationships) is just… totally whacked-out… I can’t think of any other way to describe it.
but anyway, to get to the point that i actually wanted to talk about… i am excited that someone actually took the time to study this and write this book. it is something that i have been worried about during my time in China.
you see, i have a girlfriend, who is Chinese. we have a good time together, have a lot of common, are honest with one another, and have made it through a lot (including my six months of unemployement…) anyway, i mean to say that it is a pretty innocent relationship in my opinion, and not tangled up in those various issues that foreign men-mainland Chinese women relationships often get tied up in (at least I hope not…) but man oh man, have i ever been on the receiving end of some serious f—ing resentment from some chinese men. now, this kind of thing happens in countries all over the world, but it can get pretty harsh here in my opinion. I have had people men tell me that me having a Chinese girlfriend is “bu fuhe guoqing” (does not fit China’s national conditions?), I have had friends of friends at bars try to sit us apart from each other, and ask my girlfriend “why are you with a foreigner?,” and I have seen the same question asked of her by those people who hand out the little cards on the street with numbers to order plane tickets or for discounts to new restaurants: twice, after we have avoided taking these cards, my girlfriend was asked “oh xiaojie, why are you with that foreigner?” ummm… there are a lot of other stories like this, but i will try not to turn this site into my “complaint-fest” and just try to get to my point. anyway, i would say that it is mostly just a case of horny desperate men who are not getting any… but mixed in with some of the ugly nationalism that has become an ever more powerful force in China over the past decade and a half… has anyone seen any difference between male-male resentment in China and other countries? does anyone agree that it could be related to a kind of “first they sold the opium, and then burnt down the summer palace… and now, he’s getting laid and i am not” way of thinking? I kind of feel like this type of thinking has far too large of an influence on a lot of men that we are not familiar with who see us in the subway, on the street… and then, if we actually talk to people and they find out i work for a taiwanese company (the re-unification of the motherland by force being another rallying cry for frustrated men), well wow, then i am really in trouble. but with our actual friends who know us, it is no problem. so i do think there is a lot of frustration around, along with misunderstanding of foreigners and the outside world leading to resentment, and some out-of-control nationalism: it might not lead to a war, but i could see social stability, and i wonder how it will influence foreigners’ lives in china in the coming years?

July 5, 2004 @ 12:51 am | Comment

Every foreign man my boyfriend knows in Singapore has had trouble with Singaporean men at one point. Singaporean Chinese men have a major chip on their shoulder when it comes to foreign men. I remember I used to read icered and almost all threads degenerated into name calling over ‘stealing’ Singaporean women.

July 5, 2004 @ 7:42 am | Comment

Well, it might not be the beginning of a bestseller, but this is my take on it:

July 5, 2004 @ 8:46 am | Comment

1. China’s a problem but oh my God look at the Saudis! The data from the US census ( The sex ratios of men to women are already up to nearly 170% in the 20-29 age group. The Clash of Civilsations commented on youth, but the sex imbalance is striking. The security problem already exists there.

2. Is this argument that overpopulation leads to war really that sensible? Modern fighter jets, warships and tanks, all consumed like prawn crackers in any but the most one-sided wars, are very, very expensive. That money can buy off dissent.

3. What if you lose the war? Wouldn’t you end up like the Argentine junta after the Falklands?

Just some random thoughts…


July 5, 2004 @ 3:58 pm | Comment

the question of “what if they lose the war” is interesting. but, i am currently thinking about something different. if china was to go to war over anything, it would be taiwan, and if you wanted to to get a bunch of young men fighting, that would definitely be “the cause”… but i would hope that the leaders would have enough foresight to see what a damn mess that would be.
first of all, if they lose, well, that would just be embarassing and make people even more frustrated.
but, if they win, really, wouldn’t that just be horrible PR? imagine what a mess taiwan would be, as i don’t think that the majority of taiwanese would be so excited about joining the PRC. not that they necessarily oppose “china”, but certainly this “china” does not hold much that is attractive.
so, is it a lose-lose situation?
and, if china were to not fight over taiwan, what in the world would it fight over? the only other thing i could plausibly think of would be diaoyutai, another hot point for aggressive young men.

July 5, 2004 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

Asia by blog

Delayed by a day but just as good, here’s the slightly revamped Asia by Blog. Hong Kong, Taiwan and China Peaktalk looks at the fallacy in arguments that HK doesn’t need democracy. ACB reports that China is indifferent to the protests of last week, as …

July 6, 2004 @ 12:37 am | Comment

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