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When Liu returned to his childhood village to celebrate Chinese New Year, his parents had arranged a familiar and depressing task for him: a series of speed dates. Over a week back in rural Jiangxi province, he met half a dozen potential wives in encounters he says felt more like job interviews. He expects to go through the same process next year, without much hope of success.

当刘回到自己童年的村庄过新年时,他的父母给他安排了一个熟悉却又压抑的任务:一系列快速约会。回到江西省乡下的家中已有一周多,他已经相了6个潜在的结婚对象。他说他觉得自己更像是在求职面试。他预计明年也会经历同样的事情,成功(结婚的)希望不大。

For Jin, who works with Liu in the factories of China’s Pearl River Delta, the cajoling matchmaker was his second cousin. “My cousin brought [the date] to meet me in a public square in the village, then left us together,” Jin recalls. “A few minutes in, this girl made it clear that owning an apartment would be essential, but she could wait till later for a car. And she’d be OK if the apartment wasn’t in the centre of the
town, but I had to have a deposit of at least 200,000 yuan [about £22,500].”

至于跟刘在珠三角工厂一起工作的金,那个花言巧语的媒人是他的远房亲戚。“我亲戚把人(相亲对象)带到村里的一个公共广场上和我见面,然后就留下我们两个走了”金回忆道。“在几分钟内,那个女孩明确表示拥有一套公寓是必不可少的,但车她不着急要。然后那套公寓如果不在镇中心也可以,但是这就意味着我至少要有20万元(22500英镑)的积蓄。”

In recent years, the patriarchal Chinese state has launched campaigns warning unmarried urban females over the age of 27 of the perils of becoming “leftover women”. But in reality – due to sex-selective abortions, a traditional preference for sons and the country’s one-child policy – there’s a far larger cohort of “leftover men”.

近年来,在中国重男轻女的国情下发布了对27岁以上还未婚的城市女性将有可能成为“剩女”的警示。然而现实情况是——由于性别选择性堕胎、传统上对儿子的偏爱和国家的一胎政策——中国出现了人数更为庞大的群体“剩男”。

Official state media put the male-to-female ratio at 136:100 among unmarried people born since the 1980s. Professor Jin Tiankui, an influential sociologist in China’s policy-making circle, predicts that by 2020 there will be 30 million more men than women in the 24–40 age bracket.

国家官方媒体称生于1980后的未婚人群中男女的比例为136:100。在中国决策圈内有影响力的社会学家景天魁预计称2020年在24-40岁的年龄组中,男性将比女性多3千万人。

Liu and Jin blame their lack of romantic success on their low social status as migrant workers from rural provinces. The state says there are about 278 million others like them, the backbone of the country’s wildly successful manufacturing, construction and service industries. They embody the nation’s most intractable problems of inequality – loneliness included.

刘和金认为他们的浪漫史没有成功的原因是因为他们低下的社会地位,即来自农村外来打工人员。国家称大约有2.78亿类似情况的人,他们是这个国家制造业、建筑业和服务业成功的主干力量。他们体现了国家最难处理的不平等问题——包括孤独问题。

In 2010, the main state-endorsed union surveyed thousands of rural migrants in 10 cities across the country, concluding that “the defining aspect of the migrant experience” is a sense of loneliness due to a lack of romantic prospects. A separate survey found that more than 70% of construction workers (almost exclusively rural migrants) reported emotional loneliness as the most painful aspect of their lives.

在2010年,国家主要工会对国家10座城市中的农村外来移民进行了调查,得出的结论是“对移民生活体验的定义”是因缺少浪漫前景而产生的孤独感,另一项调查则称情感孤独是他们生活中最苦痛的一面。

Liu is 33 and lonely. As a teenager he left school to help his parents on their farm, but soon ventured south to Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong, hoping to make more money. When I first met him he was working 12 hours a day, six days a week assembling iPhones at one of the Foxconn plants where Jin now works.

刘33岁单身。在青少年时他就辍学帮助他父母务农,很快便南下到深圳靠近香港的边界上,期望能赚更多的钱。笔者第一次见他时他每天工作12个小时,每周上六天的班,在某个富士康工厂组装Iphone。

Without advanced education, Liu is only qualified for insecure, low-skilled jobs. The long hours and low pay make the practicalities of dating more daunting. “It’s not because I’m a shy person. I just don’t have enough money to feel confident,” he tells me. “When a man has money, every woman feels destined to be his girlfriend.”

没有受过高等教育,刘只能做些没保障、低技能的工作。工时长工资低使得约会进程更难展开。“并不是因为我是个内向的人。而是因为我没有足够的钱让自己自信起来,”他告诉笔者,“当一个男人有钱时,任何女人都想成为他的女朋友。”

When Liu is not worrying about his own loneliness, he’s feeling guilty about letting his parents down. “They sacrificed so much to bring me up, and all they want to see is that I’m married. But I’m not able to give them that,” he tells me. “They try not to put too much pressure on me, but I know they’re under a lot of pressure from neighbours and relatives. I have two sisters and I’m their only son.” The tradition of continuing the family lineage is strong in China; many rural parents would consider it a terrible failure if their sons did not find a wife.

当刘不在忧愁自己一个人有多孤独时,他对让爸妈失望感到很惭愧。“他们牺牲那么多抚养我长大,最想看到的无非是我结婚,而我连这个都做不到,”他告诉笔者。“他们尽量不给我太多压力,但我知道他们承受着来自邻居和亲戚的巨大压力。我有两个妹妹,我是他们唯一的儿子。”延续香火的传统观念在中国根深蒂固;当自己的儿子没找到老婆时,很多农村的父母会认为这是个很可怕的后果。

By various metrics, China is ranked as one of the most unequal societies in the world. The architecture of this inequality is the system of hukou or household registration. Since the 1950s, hukou has cleaved the population into urban and rural categories, allowing China’s ruling elite to better control the lives of the country’s vast rural population in a planned economy. Today much of China’s economic life has been transformed, but key elements of hukou remain. This means that rural migrants who have lived and worked in a city for many years, contributing enormously to its prosperity, do not have the same access to employment, housing, education and healthcare as officially registered urban residents.

在各种指标判定下,中国被评为世界上最不平等的社会之一。造成这种不平等架构的是户口或户籍制度体系。1950年以来,户口制度将人口分为城市人口和农村人口两个类别,允许统治精英在计划经济下更好地控制全国广大农村人口的生活。现如今中国大部分的经济生活已经发生变化,但仍保留户口这个关键因素。这意味着农村外来移民即使在城市生活工作了多年,为这个城市的繁荣做出了巨大的贡献,也不会获得同正式登记的城市居民一样的就业、住房、教育和医疗保障。

Roughly two-thirds of the migrant workforce is aged under 35. I’ve interviewed dozens of men like Liu and Jin in Shenzhen, and most have little interest in rural life in villages that have been left behind by China’s economic boom. But their prospects for settling in big cities are little better than those of previous generations. They’re unlikely to earn enough to own a home or even a car, prerequisites to be considered marriage material by the urban middle class. Access to the tertiary education which can unlock better paying jobs is restricted by fiercely competitive entrance exams, where many young rural men are unsurprisingly outshone by their well-resourced urban counterparts.

大约三分之二的外来劳动力人群年龄在35岁以下。笔者在深圳访问了几十个像刘和金一样的人,在中国经济繁荣的情况下他们都对落后的农村生活兴趣甚微。但是他们对定居在大城市的前景远好于前几代。他们不太可能赚到足够的钱去买一套属于自己的房子甚至只是辆车,而这些在城市中产阶级中被认定是结婚的先决条件。获得高等教育就能得到更好的就业机会,然而获得高等教育的机会却受到各种竞争激烈的入学考试的限制,许多年轻的农村人口被其资源丰富的城市同龄人所超越也就不足为奇。

Increasingly, even workers in their late teens and early 20s are feeling the pressure.

越来越多的甚至连20岁左右的工人们都开始(对结婚)感觉有压力。

“These days, the only reason my parents call me is to tell me to hurry up and find a girlfriend. I’ve stopped answering their calls,” says Jiang, a 22-year-old Foxconn worker from Sichuan province.

在富士康工厂工作,来自四川省22岁的江说,“这些天,我爸妈给我打电话的唯一理由就是叫我赶快找个女朋友。我已经不再接他们的电话了。”

Lacking financial independence, young rural migrants rely on their parents for emotional and practical support more than their urban educated counterparts. They’re less likely to object to their parents arranging speed dates, or ultimately choosing them a partner and negotiating the caili (dowry payment).

缺乏经济独立,使得这些年轻的农村外来移民比他们受过教育的城市对手在情感和实际支持上更依赖父母。他们不太可能会反对父母给他们安排的快速约会,或者拥有选择其伴侣的最终决策权和彩礼(置办嫁妆)的协商。

This old tradition, banned in the era of Mao, has made a comeback in rural China. There are a number of reasons: the embrace of capitalist and entrepreneurial values; the imbalanced ratio of men to women, which drives a sellers market; and the persistence of patriarchal values which consider women to be properties, owned first by their parents and then their husband. The bride’s family would be seen to be getting a raw deal – losing both face and a rare opportunity for considerable economic gain – if a fee was not part of the bargain. The amount could range from the equivalent of a few thousand to tens of thousands of pounds, and often proves to be a deal breaker in these negotiations.

这个在毛泽东时代被禁止的古老传统,在中国农村又重新恢复了。原因有以下几点:在接受资本主义和创业价值观的情况之下;推动卖家市场的男女比例不平衡关系;和将妇女视为财产的父权文化价值观的延续,这种延续开始于父母然后是再传给其丈夫。如果费用不是协商的一部分,新娘的家庭会被认为是受到了不平等的待遇——不仅丢面子还失去了获得大笔经济利益(资金)的难得机会。这个金额在几千或几万英镑不等,经常成为协商破裂的始作俑者。

Even if a match is made, things don’t always end well. Hasty weddings can lead to hasty divorces; in one county in Henan province, up to 85% of all divorces in the period from 2013 to 2015 involved rural migrant couples. The government has signalled its concern about high divorce rates and “temporary couples” – made up of individuals who marry in their villages and then return to cities to form separate romantic relationships there.

就算这婚事成了,也不总是圆满结束。仓促地结婚可能会导致轻率的离婚;在河南省某县,2013-2015年期间涉及农民工外来夫妇的离婚事例占离婚总例的85%。政府已显示出对高离婚率和“临时夫妇”的担忧——所谓的“临时夫妇”是指在乡下结婚,回到城市时在那各自组建浪漫关系的夫妇。

In a one-party state that values social stability above all, this growing cohort of millions of disaffected and sexually frustrated young men is an unwelcome development. In a rare move, the Chinese Communist Party used an official policy document to declare its intention to “step up efforts to solve the problems facing second-generation rural migrant workers”.

在重视一党政策的国家中,这个持续增长的含数百万的不满和遭受性挫败感的年轻人群体并不是一个受人欢迎的发展。TG做出了一个罕见的决定,发布了一份官方政策文件,宣称其意图是为了“加紧解决第二代农民工问题。”

Of course, loneliness affects migrant women and men alike, and women suffer in myriad ways from broken relationships and disintegrated families. But it’s the image of sexually deprived migrant men that figures prominently in the state’s anxious imagination. There’s an obvious link between angry young men and social unrest, and history points to a connection between frustrated marital aspirations and upheaval, such as the tension caused by the demonisation of poor unmarried men by the Qing dynasty ruling class.

当然,孤独同等影响着外来移民女人和男人,同时女人在关系破裂和家庭瓦解等很多方面上遭受着磨难。但是,关于这些性被剥夺的外来移民男人的景象在国家的焦虑想象画面中显得尤为突出。社会动荡和愤怒的年轻男人之间存在着必然联系,历史也指出了挫败沮丧的婚姻期望和社会动荡有所关联,例如因清朝统治阶级对未婚男子形象的妖魔化而形成的紧张局势。

The abolition of hukou is crucial to bridging the rural-urban divide. Both central and local governments have tinkered with the system, but further reform is unlikely. That’s because increasing opportunity for rural migrants necessarily means increasing competition for the established urban middle class - themselves seen as a key stabilising social force in society. Unelected and perennially insecure, Communist Party leaders feel they can’t afford to risk instability by adopting meaningful redistributive social policies.

废除户口制度对缩小城乡差距至关重要。中央和地方政府都对这一政策进行了修改,然而再进一步的改革却是无法实现的。这是因为给农村移民提供越来越多的机会会导致其与已经建立起来的城市中产阶级之间的竞争愈演愈烈——而他们(城市中产阶级)被视为是稳定社会的主要社会力量。政府认为他们无力承担因采取有意义的再分配社会政策而要面临的风险和不稳定性。

Meanwhile, for millions like Liu and Jin, the search for love and intimacy – and with it dignity and social worth – goes on.

与此同时,数百万同刘和金一样,寻求爱情和亲密关系的人们——他们寻求其自我尊严和社会价值的旅程——还在继续。