How ‘leftover’ women in China are changing its culture


It’s unbelievable but “Left-Over” women in China are still a strange byproduct or aftershock of the one-child policy.

China’s controversial state sponsored directive and program created a cultural stigma, that in some parts of Asia, is still hard to shake.

A couple of years after the viral videos (including the below painfully revealing video by skincare brand SK-I)I, I’m still haunted by them and this topic, even as a white man living in Canada.


  • Women in China contribute more to GDP than in the US — viewing them as “leftover” is problematic.
  • About half of American technology companies have women in top positions. In China, it’s closer to 80 percent.
Jean Liu, president of ride-hailing platform Didi Chuxing

There are more visible examples of Chinese Tech leaders who are women, than in America.

According to multiple reports:

Women are getting more opportunity at seemingly every stage of the tech ecosystem in China.

Yet the same does not appear to be occurring the U.S.

  • There are 7 million urban single ladies between the ages of 25 and 34 in China.
  • The more recent introduction into the labor pool in China of women is radically changing corporate culture.

It’s important to understand how recent a development the rise of Millennial women are in Asia’s corporate culture. In China:

[U]ntil 1906, most Chinese women had their feet bound. Until 1950, they were sold in marriage to the highest bidder.

Now in 2018, women in China have some of the highest labor participation rates in the world.

Image: World Bank
Jean Liu, 40, president of Didi Chuxing, China’s dominant ride sharing firm. She is the face of Didi.

Listening to Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma speak in English on the matter, you’d think women have equal access to leadership in Tech firms and entrepreneurship. This isn’t necessarily the case. According to one report by NetEase Cloud and IT Juzi, the number of female entrepreneurs is as low as 16%.


Women in China and many other countries are starting to out-perform boys and men in their studies and achievements in education.

Almost 53% of the top-scoring students across China’s 31 provincial-level regions are female.

Yet the stigma of being an “unmarried” woman above 26, called Sheng Nu, still complicates female professional identity in a world of peer pressure, family pressure and feeling less valued in traditions that are fundamentally patriarchal in terms of lineage and family descendancy.

Chinese women are dedicating themselves to the delicate balance of remaining filial, and being dutiful daughters, which many of them want to be, but also carving out lives that are more in tune with their own expectations and their considerable professional ambition.

Dr Kaiping Peng, a psychology professor at Tsinghua University, estimates that some 70% of the local employees of international corporations in Shanghai’s Pudong or Beijing’s Central Business District are young Chinese women.

According to the World Economic Forum, the fact that now a woman can exist without being married is a bit destabilizing. Especially for a culture where an economy has grown very quickly, but the culture is still struggling to catch up to the new economic and demographic reality of China.

“In China, especially in tech companies, we are creating a new kind of corporate culture,” says Bianca Yin, a project manager at Didi Chuxing.

As America struggles with women in technology and even equal gender pay, China is also in a period of rapid transformation for women. The so called “left-over” women in China may be some of the biggest advocates for change and social progress in China.