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Why do many young Chinese choose to live alone?

Chinese people live alone


IN HER tiny flat, which she shares with two cats and a flock of porcelain owls, Chi Yingying describes her parents as wanting to be the controlling shareholders in her life. Even when she was in her early 20s, her mother raged at her for being unmarried. At 28 Ms Chi took "the most courageous decision of my life" and moved into her own home. Now 33, she relishes the privacy—at a price: her monthly rent of 4,000 yuan ($625) swallows nearly half her salary. 

迟莹莹(音)住在一套狭小的公寓里,她养了两只猫,屋里摆放着一些陶瓷猫头鹰。她说父母老想控制她的生活。甚至在她20岁出头时,母亲曾为她还不结婚而大发脾气。迟女士在28岁时做出了"我一生中最大胆的决定",她搬进了自己的家。她现在33岁了,充分享受自己的私人空间——但付出了代价:每月4000元(合625美元)的房租耗费她近一半的工资收入。

 

In many countries leaving the family home well before marriage is a rite of passage. But in China choosing to live alone and unmarried as Ms Chi has done is eccentric verging on taboo. Chinese culture attaches a particularly high value to the idea that families should live together. Yet ever more people are living alone.

在许多国家,婚前搬出父母家单住是一种"成年礼"。但在中国,像迟小姐那样没结婚就单独居住几乎是大逆不道。中国的文化理念特别强调家人应生活在一起。不过,越来越多的人选择与父母分开住。

 

In the decade to 2010 the number of single-person households doubled. Today over 58m Chinese live by themselves, according to census data, a bigger number of one-person homes than in America, Britain and France combined. Solo dwellers make up 14% of all households. That is still low compared with rates found in Japan or Taiwan (see chart), but the proportion will certainly increase.  

在截至2010的本世纪头10年,中国单人家庭增加了一倍。根据人口普查资料,如今单独居住和生活的中国人超过5800万,比美、英、法三国的单人家庭加起来还多。单人家庭占总的家庭数的14%。这个比例低于日本或台湾,但肯定还会增加。

 

The pattern of Chinese living alone is somewhat different from that in the West, because tens of millions of (mainly poor) migrant workers have moved away from home to find work in more prosperous regions of China; many in this group live alone, often in shoeboxes. Yet for the most part younger Chinese living alone are from among the better-off. "Freedom and new wealth" have broken China's traditional family structures, says Jing Jun of Tsinghua University in Beijing.

中国人独居的模式与西方的稍有不同,因为数千万(主要是贫困的)农民工离家外出到中国较为繁荣的地区找工作;这个群体中许多人独自生活,通常住在"鞋盒式"小隔间里。但对绝大多数独居的年轻人来说,家庭条件还算不错。北京清华大学的一位社会学教授说:"自由和新财富"打破了中国传统的家庭结构。

 

The better-educated under-30-year-olds are, and the more money they have, the more likely they are to live alone. Rich parts of China have more non-widowed single dwellers: in Beijing a fifth of homes house only one person. The marriage age is rising, particularly in big cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, where the average man marries after 30 and the average woman at 28, older than their American counterparts. Divorce rates are also increasing, though they are still much lower than in America. More than 3.5m Chinese couples split up each year, which adds to the number of single households.

对于那些高学历的30岁以下的年轻人来说,越是有钱,他们就越有可能单独居住。中国的富裕阶层出现越来越多的非丧偶型独居者:在北京有1/5的家庭是单人家庭。结婚的年龄也在不断增长,特别是在像上海或者广州这样的大城市,男性普遍在30岁之后才结婚,而大多数女性在28岁,比美国人还晚结婚。离婚率也在不断上升,尽管和美国比起来仍低很多。在中国每年有超过350万夫妇离婚,这也使独居人口数量增加。

 

For some, living alone is a transitional stage on the way to marriage, remarriage or family reunification. But for a growing number of people it may be a permanent state. In cities, many educated, urban women stay single, often as a positive choice—a sign of rising status and better employment opportunities. Rural areas, by contrast, have a skewed sex ratio in which men outnumber women, a consequence of families preferring sons and aborting female fetuses or abandoning baby girls. The consequence is millions of reluctant bachelors.

对于一些人来说,独居只是结婚、复婚、再婚过程中的一个过渡,但是对于越来越多的一些人来说,这就可能是一种永久状态。在一些城市里,许多高学历的都市女性保持单身状态,这往往是一个正确的选择——是表明地位增加和职场机会更好的一个迹象。相反,一些农村地区已出现男女比例失调的现象。在农村,男性多于女性,这通常是家庭偏好男孩从而堕掉女孩或者遗弃女婴造成的结果。这种男女比例失调造成的后果就是成千上万的光棍。

 

In the past, adulthood in China used, almost without exception, to mean marriage and having children within supervised rural or urban structures. Now a growing number of Chinese live beyond prying eyes, able to pursue the social and sexual lives they choose.

过去,无论在中国的城市或农村,长大成人了就意味着要娶妻生子,几乎无一例外。现在越来越多的中国人躲开别人窥视的目光独自生活,他们能够去追求自己选择的社交和两性生活。

 

For now those who live alone are often subject to mockery. Unmarried females are labelled "leftover women"; unmarried men, "bare branches"—for the family tree they will never grow. An online group called "women living alone" is stacked with complaints about being told to "get a boyfriend".

现在,那些单身独居的人也经常受到嘲笑。未婚女性被人打上"剩女"的标签,未婚男性被称作"光棍"——因为他的家族无法开枝散叶。网上有一个叫作"独居女人"的团体,从里面可以看到许多人抱怨被人催"找男朋友"。

 

Even eating out can be a trial, since Chinese food culture is associated with groups of people sharing a whole range of dishes. After repeated criticism for dining alone, in 2014 Yanni Cai, a Shanghai journalist, wrote "Eating Alone", a book on how singletons can adapt Chinese cuisine to make a single plate a meal in itself. According to tradition, even a frugal Chinese meal comprises "four dishes and one soup". A single diner is likely to find that rather too much to stomach.

就算是出去吃个饭也可能是个难事,因为中国的饮食文化离不开一群人共享一桌子饭菜。在一个人吃饭多次受到非议之后,上海记者蔡雅妮2014年写了一本叫《一人食》的书,本书教单身贵族们如何适应中国的饮食文化做出一人份美餐。按照传统,在中国就算是最普通的一顿饭也要"四菜一汤"。而一个人吃晚餐很有可能觉得"四菜一汤"实在吃不下。

2016-06-24

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