Leftover Women: Under the Umbrella and China’s Marriage Markets
Meet Wei: ambitious, independent, born and raised just outside Guangzhou, China. Having recently moved to the UK to study for her PhD in Coventry, she’s now settling in well with the help of her new housemate and BFF Lucy.
There’s just one problem: Wei is turning 27 and still single, which in China means she runs the risk of being labelled shengnu or “leftover woman”
Making its world premiere at the Belgrade Theatre 2-16 March, Amy Ng’s compelling new drama Under the Umbrella shines a spotlight on some of the social pressures faced by young women in China and around the world today.
Based on an original idea by Lian Wilkinson, the play is inspired by China’s “marriage markets” – a phenomenon that sees hundreds of Chinese parents descend on public parks to advertise the dating profiles of their unmarried adult children.
Having first sprung up in Shanghai’s People’s Park in 2004, the marriage markets are 15 years old this year and still going strong, with many young men and women completely unaware of the fact that they are “on display” there.
While both genders are advertised, the shengnu stigma and perceived desirability of younger women mean that women face more pressure to marry young. Moreover, it’s generally expected that men will be better educated and wealthier than their wives.
As a well-educated woman who has left home in search of better career prospects rather than settling down with a local man, Wei is the embodiment of what the shengnu concept aims to prevent, and is urged to get married by her concerned mother and grandmother.
But while she’s initially resentful of the interference, by delving into the history of her family and China’s one-child policy, she begins to better understand what has led them to this point.
Under the Umbrella shows at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry 2-16 March 2019. Tickets are available to book now at www.belgrade.co.uk.
Images: Tara Rutledge