In China, being a mother for the majority of unmarried women was, until only one year ago, not really conceivable from a practical standpoint. However, a societal transition is now taking place, and this is causing alterations in policy as well.
Zhang Meili is rocking her infant in her home on the outskirts of Shanghai. She informs him that she is going to go out and get a job shortly in order to make money for him while he is blissfully gurgling away.
Heng Heng, who is just two months old, will be looked after by his grandma once his mother goes to work. His grandmother recently relocated to China’s biggest city in order to assist her daughter in raising her kid.
Many people in China, particularly those living in more traditional rural and regional regions, would frown upon the fact that Heng Heng does not have a father figure in his life. The idea that a kid should never be born into this world without a mother and a father is one that is commonly believed among people in our country.
In the instance of Zhang Meili, she states that she considers herself very fortunate to have relocated to Shanghai to manage a company there since being a single mother in this megacity is much more acceptable.
She expresses her appreciation to the city of Shanghai for its tolerant nature. “I am from a rural part of Henan, which is a place in which I would face a great deal of prejudice due to the fact that I am a single mother.”
Heng Heng will spend his formative years in Shanghai, a city in which it is less socially stigmatized to grow up fatherless.
As a result of the disapproval of her boyfriend’s family about his choice of marriage, she raised her child alone. They thought that her standing in society needed to be higher for her accomplishments.
Therefore, he ended their relationship despite the fact that she was carrying his kid.
When her mother, Mrs. Zhao, learned the news that her daughter, who is now 25 years old, would retain the kid, I inquired as to how she felt about the situation.
“What are my thoughts? “I was very devastated,” she recalls. “Bringing up a child by oneself is a really challenging task. And the people who lived around us in our hometown would voice their disapproval.
Since she became a grandma, has she experienced a shift in her emotions?
She exclaims, her grin spreading over her whole face, “Now I see him, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Because she operates her own small company, Zhang Meili has opportunities available to her that are unavailable to the majority of single women who are not married.
This provides her with a greater sense of autonomy and control over her life.
Because she is going to bring up her kid on her own, she does not have to negotiate parental leave with her job or fight for social acceptability in the workplace. This is despite the fact that the little massage business she owns and operates is still having trouble recovering from the effects of COVID-19.
Obviously, it has not been easy for Zhang Meili to keep her company afloat during such a turbulent period economically, what with the additional hurdles of delivering a baby, as well as the knowledge that even while views are shifting, there are still those people who would look down on her. Despite these challenges, Zhang Meili has managed to keep her business alive.
She claims that none of her friends supported her choice to retain her kid despite the fact that she was pregnant. They believed that it would hurt her prospects of later finding a spouse and that it wouldn’t be fair for the kid to grow up without a father. Also, they believed that it wasn’t appropriate for the child to grow up without a mother.
Zhang Meili is able to maintain her independence because of the fact that she operates her own firm.
She will say things like, “When I was pregnant, I went to the hospital by myself.” “At that time, my store was fighting for its life, and as I glanced around, I couldn’t help but feel envious of the wives who brought their husbands in to buy with them.
“However, I made the decision to raise my child(ren) by myself. I made the decision to have him. Therefore, it was time for me to move on.
However, the attitudes of other people were not the only factor that contributed to the difficulty of being a single parent.
Before the year 2016, the government stopped authorities from providing birth approval certificates unless they first saw confirmation that both the mother and the father were married. This prevented such an event from taking place.
In order for a kid to get a hukou, the identity certificate that all Chinese residents are required to have in order to do things like enroll in school, it had been a requirement that the child’s hukou application must include the identification information of both of the child’s parents. This was another issue.
When I first arrived in China twenty years ago, I remember unmarried ladies telling me that they would have no option but to get an abortion if they were pregnant by mistake because a kid could not live in this country without all of the appropriate documentation. This is because a child could not survive in this country without all of the required paperwork.
Even after these regulations were altered, it remained almost tricky for the majority of unmarried women to even contemplate the possibility of having a child until the year 2017. This was due to the fact that they were unable to have access to the necessary health insurance coverage in order to pay for the hospital, as well as paid maternity leave.
These two things are now meant to have changed; however, in order for a staff member to begin receiving benefits, their employer must first submit an application on their behalf. Some businesses continue to refuse to do this despite the fact that it is now required.
An attorney with expertise in advocating for individuals in legal matters. legal situations in this industry shared with us that she had a client whose supervisor at a major franchise would not assist her in gaining access to paid maternity leave. They only agreed to do it once she had already filed a lawsuit against the corporation.
The attorney, who spoke on the condition that they remain anonymous, said that “it truly relies on the transparency of the organization and the knowledge of employers about the rights of their personnel.” However, local rules are ambiguous, and as a result, businesses often find themselves in legal limbo here.
The attorney continued by saying that some managers need to be made aware that the rules have evolved.
Others choose to keep their knowledge private because they have no interest in doing so. They could think that having just one parent is inappropriate.
At this point in time, China would want to see an increase in its birthrate; nonetheless, China’s single moms may still be subject to prejudice.
According to Professor Yang Juhua of Minzu University in Beijing, under Chinese law, all women and their children should have the same rights regardless of their marital status. This is his opinion.
She states, “However, in terms of execution, it is not a straightforward process.” “Why? Because a significant number of individuals still lack the capacity to comprehend single moms and are intolerant of them.
According to Professor Yang, a specialist in demography, the guidelines were developed without taking into account the situation of single moms.
She continues by saying that “China’s policies are meant for married couples.” “Getting married is a must for this. The concept of a single parent raising a child alone is still relatively novel in our country, and it entails a mode of thought that is quite distinct from the ethical standards that we have always upheld.
The country’s rapidly aging population has been one element that has been pushing change among authorities.
After decades of enforcing the one-child policy, the government is now encouraging young couples to have more children, but many of them are not responding to the call because of financial concerns. They are under the impression that they do not have enough money to support a large family.
Those in positions of power have reached the conclusion that, given these conditions, unmarried women who are interested in having children should be encouraged to do so.
We meet Peng Qingqing at a commercial fair specializing in baby items while we are at the enormous exposition complex in the city of Hangzhou, which is located in the southeast of the country.
Peng Qingqing, who manages an online sales platform, is now seven months pregnant and has not yet tied the knot. Like Zhang Meili, she believes that being a successful entrepreneur has made it easier for her to maintain her single status.
Peng Qingqing is a successful entrepreneur who is expecting to become a mother in the near future. “My mother always encouraged me that women should be more independent, confident, and powerful,” she shares with us. “Just because we had a kid does not mean that I want to marry into another family.”
When she found out she was pregnant by accident with her much younger lover, the woman, who is now 30 years old, claimed that the timing was not appropriate for marriage but that she did want to retain her kid.
According to her, the changing position of women in China, particularly in terms of their independence and their financial circumstances, has meant that decisions may now be taken that were not feasible only a few years ago. Specifically, she cites this as an example.
Women have historically had to rely on their husbands and other family members for assistance. The wage gap between men and women narrows as more of us succeed in our careers. It’s even possible for women to hire someone to assist them,” she adds.
However, the great majority of unmarried women in China make significantly less money than their male counterparts and continue to rely on the system as it is in order to survive.
The attorney who has been focusing on matters concerning the rights of working women says that the amount of money received during maternity leave is proportional to the employee’s regular compensation. “Their earnings are poor,” she continues, referring to the low-income single moms in the grassroots communities. They could not continue living if they did not have access to adequate and compensated maternity leave. It’s essential to keep that in mind.
“These days, the government is actively promoting couples to have more children in their homes. There are also monetary incentives in some of the regions. However, such assistance is not often accessible to single moms. It’s a rather discriminating practice.
When Peng Qingqing found out she was pregnant, she decided it was not the proper time for her to marry.
According to her, women who give birth outside of marriage might experience additional sorts of prejudice.
For individuals who work in the public sector, it is possible that they will be unable to get political clearance from the Communist Party. This clearance verifies that a person is a friendly and loyal citizen. If you do not have this kind of official permission, you may be passed over for promotions or that you will not be hired for a government position at all.
However, Professor Yang argues that, in her opinion, prejudice of this kind will eventually become obsolete as society evolves to become more accepting of single moms.
According to her, it would be beneficial if the federal government in the future mandated that state and local governments be more stringent in their enforcement of rules that enable unmarried women to have children.
As for Zhang Meili, she believes that women should be the ones to make this decision for themselves.
When I ask her what piece of advice she would offer to other people who find themselves in the same predicament as her, she tells me, “It depends on their unique circumstances, but if they love kids, they should have them.”
“Do not let a kid slip through your fingers because of the words of other people or because of the inquiries that are coming at you from the outside.”