Statistics show that, over the past 15 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of single people around the world: it rose from 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011, or a 81% increase. In the UK, one-person households accounted for 34% of all households; in the US, they accounted for 27%. In Switzerland, 47% of all households consisted of one person only, and in Norway, 40% of households have only one person. As far as Eastern countries are concerned, the proportion of single-person household in Japan has gone up to 30%. The latest trends suggest that there is a similar increase in the number of people living alone in China, India and Brazil. Currently, the number of young men and women of marriegable age living alone in China has gone over 10 million; and in Beijing and Shanghai, there is over 1 million single young men and women.
What brought about this wave of single people in today’s China? There are many diverse reasons for it. For some people, it is a voluntary choice; others are forced to remain single because they cannot find a suitable marriage partner; and the majority of people just goes with the flow, if they find a suitable marriage partner, they get married, but as long as they don’t, they remain single.
Overall, there are four main causes for the tide of single people:
First, the development of an individual culture and the rise of individualism as a value. A classic sociological summary of the differences between East and West is as follows: Western societies are individual based, Chinese society is family-based. For the former, individual happiness is the main value; for the latter, family interests are the main value. With the progress of modernisation and urbanisation process, individualism has become more important in Chinese urban culture, and individual happiness has become increasingly important in the mind of many people, especially the younger generation, whereas the importance of getting married and having children to carry the family line is no longer as important as it used to be. This is the main cause for the wave of single people, especially among those who voluntarily choose the single lifestyle.
The second is gender equality, and the participation of women in the social division of labour. The rise of women’s participation in the social division of labour since the 1950s has completely changed the status of Chinese women in the community and the status of marriage. The most important is the shift from a system of dependency on men, where men go out, and women stay in, to a system of gender equality. Women have their own income, and can independently support themselves. In traditional society, marriage is the only source of income for a woman, and the only form of life. Now women have the possibility to choose a single lifestyle. This is also one of the reasons for the wave of single people.
Third, the rising life expectancy increases tensions that arise from contradictions among the couple. In traditional society, people only lived into their 30s or 40s, so it was not difficult to to maintain a life-long marital relationship. But in contemporary society, life expectancy has risen to 78 years. This long relationship makes disagreements and contradictions more prominent. Unless there is passionate love between partners, many people will find themselves indifferent or even tired of each other. Even among partners who passionately love each other, emotional change is still possible. Fixed marriages increasingly become barriers to people’s emotions and desires. The soaring divorce rate is evidence for it. And the high cost of divorce (material and mental) has deterred many people from marriage. This is another cause for the wave of single people.
Recently, there has been a radical change in our worship of fertility and providing future generations. In traditional China, people were basically atheist, but ancestor worship and concern for the family line were Chinese people’s most religiously coloured values. People would think of their offspring as the continuation of their own life. Apart from that, when old people were no longer able to work, children represented the only source of material and emotional support. In modern society, the value of reproduction has gone down, The system of universal social pension has gradually replaced the role of children as pension providers. And if you choose not to have children, the actual grounds for marriage are reduced by half. Voluntary infertility has become a possible choice, and a direct consequence of this choice is the increase in the number of single people.
As to the issue of evaluating the wave of single people, I think the first principle should be not to pass on moral judgements. In other words, not to judge whether this is a good or bad thing. This is because morality is a thing that changes constantly with time and space. From the point of view of a family-based morality, the rising wave of single people is a bad thing; but from the point of view of and individual-based morality, many people choosing to live single is not a bad thing, but a natural choice consistent with human nature, entirely within the scope of the rights of the individual, and an expression of their individual freedom. We should celebrate the fact that we live in an environment offering so much space for individual freedom and such vastly expanded times and society, laws and traditions no longer have the power to restrain people into one monolithic mode of living.
Q: How do you see the psychological phenomenon of “impossibility to love”?
A: Two reasons. One is, from childhood, that one has not had much love education, and read too few romantic novels. The other, the lack of spiritual pursuit, and satisfaction with material and sensual pursuits only.
Q: Why do some people suddely fall in love then suddely break up, and then very quickly fall in love with a new person again?
A: The evolution of emotions is very natural, love happens, love passes, and so marriage passes in a flash. As to why the next one follows so fast, it’s because there are lots of people in this situation, looking for each other.
Q: How to maintain love, and ultimately go towards marriage?
A: The general rule is that passion turns into tenderness, and the raging fire into a gentle trickle; only by achieving this transformation can a relationship ultimately turn into marriage.
Q: When you love someone, how should you maintain the distance between you and them? How can you make sure the other person does not feel alienated, and does not feel like they’ve lost their freedom?
A: When a marriage is concluded, you’ve given up your right to freedom, because marriage requires commitment and loyalty. If you want free love, you can divorce. Or if you do not want to divorce, and want to give each other freedom, you can reach an agreement with your spouse, for instance, discuss to what extent both sides can have lovers outside the couple.
Q: A lot of people are experimenting with pre-marital sex, what is your view on that?
A: There is a rising trend of pre-marital sex these days. Since it is impossible to prohibit pre-marital sex, the best thing to do is to ‘疏‘ not to ‘block it’. Sexual education should start at puberty at the latest, and when students cohabit, like at university, the school should teach them about contraception, rather than waiting to get pregnant, then get an abortion.