A Chinese lawmaker proposed during the annual “Two Sessions” this weekend that the Communist Party implement a mandatory college course on dating, marriage, and parenting.
China’s state-run Global Times reported Monday that the initiative would first require the Party to draft and approve an academic textbook on relationships and building families. That textbook would then hypothetically be used for a mandatory course required for Chinese undergraduates nationwide.
The proposal is one of several Communist Party attempts to tackle the nation’s catastrophic birth rate, which collapsed even further amid the Chinese coronavirus pandemic in 2020. After decades of imposing a “one-child policy” nationwide, banning Han Chinese citizens from having more than one child and subjecting violators to forced abortions and infanticides, the nation has one of the most peculiar gender imbalances in the world. As of 2019, China boasted 34 million more men than women, leaving a particular dearth of women of childbearing age.
Decades in a communist system have resulted in no increase in the birth rate even after dictator Xi Jinping replaced the one-child policy with a “two-child policy” in 2016. Polls repeatedly show Chinese youth have little interest in parenting, and increasingly less desire to engage in romantic relationships generally.
“Simply allowing a couple to have a second child does not mean they will have one, as the costs of raising children, escalating housing prices and mounting career pressures on women dampen couples’ desire to have more children,” the state-run propaganda outlet China Daily noted in December.
The Chinese government estimated that 10 million people were born in China in 2020, 15 percent fewer births than in 2019.
China’s “two sessions” are the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the two federal-level legislatures. According to the Global Times, CPPCC member Yu Xinwei proposed during the two sessions this week that universities should take responsibility in pressuring young Chinese people to marry and have children.
“Chinese college students lack emotion education. They are prone to excessive mental ups and downs and may even carry out extreme behavior when suffering setbacks in a relationship,” Yu reportedly said in defense of her proposal, which would begin with a state-approved textbook to teach young people about relationships. “Strengthening marriage and love education among college students is conducive to the stability and harmony of their future partnerships and family relations.”
The Global Times, which echoes the opinions of the central Party in Beijing, appeared supportive of the move, claiming suicide rates among college students were a problem for the country and that college students interviewed for their article appeared open to further instruction on relationships.
The idea of academic classes on dating and family-building is not a new concept in China. In 2013, the state publication Shanghai Daily documented the growing trend of women taking “exclusive” classes in how to identify suitable bachelors. The founder of an agency offering those classes told the publication at the time, “to marry a rich husband, women must groom themselves up first to get that added value … just like renovating a ‘rough apartment’ into a ‘lavishly decorated house.'”
“One agency that claims it can help single women find her dream ‘Mr Right’ within 90 days is offering a one-day course for 2,800 yuan (US$451),” the publication noted. That agency boasted 30,000 students at the time.
The Chinese government has attempted to carve a corner for itself in this industry, which has notably done little to change marriage and birth rates in the country since 2013. The Communist Youth League, which manages the relationship with younger generations for the Party, announced in 2017 that it would launch a dating service to help young ideological zealots find each other. The service launched in Zhejiang province and promised adequate screening for its participants, meaning single people could receive a guarantee that the person recommended to them was Party-approved and in good standing with the regime. The service consisted of organizing events for young singles to meet and rigorously screening them for ideological purity before allowing them into the social engagement.
College classes for relationships were among several proposals to give the Communist Party greater control of the lives of young Chinese people proposed during this weekend’s “two sessions.” Last week, another lawmaker, Chen Aizhu of Zhejiang, proposed Party-run “education” for people in relationships applying to receive a marriage license.
“Carrying out premarital trainings is to help to improve people’s sense of responsibility to the family, encouraging the new couples to be loyal in marriage and cherish their family,” according to Chen, who lamented that Chinese culture is becoming “more open” about how to maintain a proper partnership.
The concern for couples that already exist prior to marriage reflects concerns about another growing phenomenon in China: divorce, particularly of childless couples. The nation’s divorce rate skyrocketed last year. Multiple major cities experienced a surge in requests for divorce upon opening their offices after Chinese coronavirus crackdowns concluded.
“As a result of the epidemic, many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts, adding that the office had been closed for a month, therefore the office has seen an acutely increasing divorce appointment,” a government official told the Global Times in March 2020.
The issue of how to encourage single women to marry and have children — in light of growing divorce rates, a shortage of women of childbearing age, and couples simply choosing not to having children together — has spawned other unorthodox proposals. The Shanxi Think Tank Development Association, a research organization in that province, proposed in February that the government pressure single women in the nation’s big cities to move to rural areas and marry single farmers after a certain age. The proposal specifically targeted “leftover” women, meaning women who remain single after their 20s. The think tank identified rural areas as particularly attractive for urban women because so many women born in these regions leave, as they find no job prospects at home.