Chinese Professor Suggests Polygamy as Solution to Gender Imbalance, Is Panned

While China’s “leftover women” tend to dominate headlines regarding the country’s dramatic gender imbalance, it is also home to an army of “bare branches,” or men who are seemingly destined to not marry and add to their family tree, with the National State Population and Family Planning Commission predicting that the surplus of men will reach 30 million by 2020. These leftover men are often from China’s lower socioeconomic strata due to women being able to ask more from their potential spouse, and some scholars have theorized that the lack of marriageable women among the bare branches could lead to social instability. In response, one Chinese professor has given his solution: polygamy (or more specifically, polyandry).

While polygamy is frowned upon is most societies around the globe, and criminalized in most, Professor Xie Zuoshi of Zhejiang University believes that wife-sharing among men in China’s poorer regions would be a way to efficiently allocate “resources.”

“The guanggun [bare branches] problem is actually a problem of income. High-income men can find a woman because they can pay a higher price. What about low-income men? One solution is to have several take a wife together. That’s not just my weird idea. In some remote, poor places, brothers already marry the same woman, and they have a full and happy life,” Xie’s Sina blog read, although the post has now been deleted.

Unsurprisingly, Xie suffered considerable backlash for his opinions, with one well-known women’s rights activist criticizing his words for equating women to a commodity or economic resource to be distributed efficiently, according to the male perspective.

This is a problem that was brought on by China’s family planning policies and historic preference for male offspring, and while these restrictions and ideals may be slowing changing, the repercussions are here and now.

First and foremost are the shady, oftentimes illegal schemes used to provide rural Chinese men with young women to marry from China’s poorer neighbors in Southeast Asia. Many of these marriages utilize the services of a “matchmaker,” which is a highly euphemistic way of saying ‘human trafficker,” while others result in marriage scams whereby the paid-for brides leave their new husband with their bride price and return home, cash in hand. And then there are the women trafficked into China not for marriage but for prostitution. With sexual education lacking among both the bare branches seeking sexual release and the trafficked women, HIV is an ever-present danger, with new infections rising 15 percent in 2014 and sexual transmission the primary form of transmission.

In addition to the moral and health concerns is one that is more nuanced: a supposition that the competitiveness of attracting a wife in the future is forcing many Chinese households with sons to save at a higher rate than those households with daughters. And it is easy to see why, with many Chinese women demanding the house-and-car package as a prerequisite for marriage. To get a wife, one should have a better house than the competition, in a better district of a better city with a better car in the parking lot downstairs, and this all costs money. This is a hardly a hypothesis that the Chinese government wants to hear as it transitions away from the country’s traditional infrastructure and export-based models of economic growth to one that features consumption as its mainstay.

There seems to be no solution to this problem as while China’s family planning policies are being reformed (to little effect as many Chinese simply do not want two kids), it is simply a case of too little, too late.