Angry Asian Men

frustrated-chinese-man( Source left: unknown; Source right: GR × HERMARK, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Well, angry Chinese men to be precise, for in 2005 there were 32 million more Chinese boys under the age of 20 than girls, some of the oldest of which will already have been having problems finding sexual partners. And the the gap is set to get worse over the next twenty years as the demographic “wave” of China’s skewed sex ratio arrives.

That figure comes from this study released last week, according to the New York Times actually the first ever to provide hard data on the scale of the problems coming as a result of China’s “One Child Policy“, so it’s well worth a quick read (it’s only seven pages long).

Certainly the notion of hordes of sexually frustrated young men haunting Shanghai bars may sound facetious at first (aren’t they there already?), but the reality is that throughout history they’ve invariably proved very bad for social stability and security: much better to send them off fighting wars, so they don’t cause trouble back at home. Which, needless to say, is ultimately very ominous-sounding considering the ugly nationalist streak China has been displaying in recent years, particularly by its young people. For more on that, see this excellent article by Michael Ledeen (with thanks to Tom Coyner’s “Korean Economic Reader” mailing list), who argues partially on that basis that it is quite misleading and outdated to think of China as a communist regime, and that it is actually more a fascist one now. He’s very convincing.

garfield-minus-garfield-what-if-we-could-see-into-the-futureMeanwhile, see here for my take on Korea’s own sex-ratio problems, which – despite what you may read elsewhere – were actually acknowledged and largely taken care of back in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately however, that minor detail tends to get overlooked by the overseas media somehow (source, right: Garfield Minus Garfield).

Finally, not that it really has anything to do with this post, but I confess that it inspired the title: if you haven’t heard of the Angry Asian Man blog then be sure to check it out, as it offers an unorthodox (and much needed) perspective on American culture and politics.

15 thoughts on “Angry Asian Men

  1. This actually came up just the other day in one of my demography courses. Since China’s economy is increasingly enmeshed with that of its neighbors, the most likely route that China will take is to develop or at least allow a massive system of sex for hire. Yes, there’s already prostitution in China, but it is (as far as I’m aware) legally suppressed, unlike neighbors Korea, Japan, and Thailand (and other countries, of course).

    Korea, Thailand, and Japan developed such an extensive system of prostitution at a more conservative time when there was a gross imbalance of sex-seeking men and sex-offering women outside of prostitution.

    In Korea and Japan at least (and I’m guessing Thailand as well), there has long been a utilitarian view of sex, and allowing but cordoning off sex production — socially quarantining it — has been a culturally acceptable way to go, allowing the rest of society to have normalized lives.

    I’m not saying this is a good thing or advocating it, just that it’s the likely pattern. Women in China (as in Korea) are again becoming the beast on which the burden of society is carried. Hardly a new thing, but always sad. I fear the best we can hope for is a realization that the profession needs to be regulated so that the women are not treated to daily horror and are able to leave the profession if they so desire.


  2. Since China’s economy is increasingly enmeshed with that of its neighbors

    … I didn’t explain this well. What I meant was that war is less likely because it’s much clearer that the potential benefits of war are far outweighed by the deleterious effects of going to war against a trading partner, and the effects are quite immediate.


  3. I wouldn’t be surprised to see China try to bring some foreign women in to marry to their Chinese boys. Either they do it indirectly, by making it easier to marry a foreign woman, or directly by encouraging women to come based on their own accord through money, status, etc…. You’re definitely attractive if you’re outnumbered as badly as you would be… or if you like guys fighting over you…

    A bigger question: what to do about all those new marriages – continue the One Child policy?


    1. Kushibo–I’m well aware of the Korean government encouraging and using Korean women to become prostitutes to US servicemen in the 1950s and 1960s (for the sake of foreign exchange), but when was there a “more conservative time when there was a gross imbalance of sex-seeking men and sex-offering women outside of prostitution”? Not saying that they’re wasn’t one necessarily, just that it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

      Chris–Indeed, but bear in mind they’d be in competition with much of the rest of Northeast Asia, and, last time I checked, it was Chinese women coming over here to marry Korean men, not the other way round. Not that I don’t think that China ultimately will import foreign women like you say though, just that China still has a lot to do before it becomes attractive enough to entice them.


  4. Link to Shanghai bars being haunted by angry hordes of Chinese men? Or was that a joke?

    32 million people in a country of 1.3 to 1.4 billion is a much smaller blip than it would be in a country of <100 million (Korea) or 300 million (USA).

    Chinese military doctrine is shifting away from “mass infantry” and more towards a high-tech military like the American one. So I don’t see the army as some place to put these “extra” men. (BTW, does calling human beings “extra” creep anyone else out, or am I just sensitized by the class I’m taking on the Holocaust and its rhetoric?)

    Is there a lot of anti-China sentiment in Korea these days?


    1. Yes, that was supposed to be a joke.

      32 million is certainly a relatively small proportion of the Chinese population as a whole, but their numbers are growing, and while it sounds dramatic, the Chinese government barely keeps a lid on protests and pervasive social discontent as it is. It’s not to hard to imagine those men providing the catalyst to wider protest movements that get out of the government’s control.

      China is certainly in the midst of upgrading it’s military forces, but it’s still decades away from challenging America’s high-tech advantage, and in the meantime the PLA – the largest in the world – provides an internal security role that is only going to be relied upon over time.

      Sorry, but personally I do think you’re too sensitized to the term “extra men”!

      I wouldn’t say there’s too much anti-Chinese sentiment in Korea these days myself, and what does exist is usually an echo of the left-right divide in politics. The Roh Mu-hyun administration very much shifted away from America and cozied up to China, which Lee Myeong-bak is reversing. Otherwise, on the one hand Koreans regard Chinese people as poor and dirty, but on the other more and more Koreans are aware that Korea is caught between the pincers of China’s cheap labor costs and Japan’s overall high-tech advantage (with the exception of LG and Samsung of course), so to a certain extent China makes them increasingly nervous, although on the other hand that provides opportunities for investment. But almost all Koreans were greatly angered by the behavior of young Chinese during the olympic torch rally in Seoul, and the hand-offish treatment of them by the police.

      (update: here’s a link for that last)


  5. Hi James,

    I lived in Korea from 1982 – 1997. The sex ratio issue was of great interest to me, and I’m curious to see how it’s going to play out over the next 10 – 15 years. When my son was in elementary school there (he entered 1st grade in 1995) the typical sex ratio in most classrooms was something like 24 boys for every 20 girls (120 males per 100 females).

    My guess is that “men of ability” i.e. highly educated with good jobs, will be the ones to get the girls, while those at the bottom of the food chain may end up bringing in wives from other countries, just as the farmers in the countryside have been doing for years.

    BTW, did you ever hear about the female infantcide that was rampant in the Middle East until about 1980? Check out some of the pyramid charts for countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

    It appears that that there are half as many females as there should be among those born before 1980. I wonder how they were able to avoid international attention? Even people who were teaching English there in those days were unaware.

    It’s no wonder that the promise of seven virgins in heaven would be a motivating factor in the recruitment of jihadists willing to go on suicide missions!



  6. I saw that article on the “excess males” in China several days ago and was struck by the apparent ‘anti-male bias’ of the reporter, researchers, and commentator -who are all women.

    Researchers: Therese Hesketh, Wei Xingzhu, Li Lu
    Commentator: Nancy Riley

    This passage from the article seems not to have appeared in the NYT Asia Pacific edition linked above:

    “If you’ve got highly sexed young men, there is a concern that they will all get together and, with high levels of testosterone, there may be a real risk, that they will go out and commit crimes,” said Therese Hesketh, a lecturer at the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London. She did not specify what kinds of crimes.”

    Prey tell, how can the men be “highly sexed” if there is a vast shortage of women?

    I whole heartedly agree that the female infantcide that has gone on in China is wrong, just as it was wrong in Korea in the 1980s – 1990s, and wrong in the Middle East pre 1980. (It’s also been going on in India,I’ve heard.) Nevertheless, the reporter and researchers are clearly and openly grinding their axes.

    It wouldn’t be too hard to reframe the problem as one of “the missing girls” or “the shortage of women.” After all, it’s not the case that too many males were born, but rather that not enough girls were born.

    As an aside, my wife (Korean) seems to believe that Chinese men treat their wives better than Korean and Japanese men do (e.g. they cook). According to her, this harkens back to a time when there was a shortage of women in China (hmm, history repeating itself) and men had to treat their wives extra nice in order to keep them from running off to other suitors. I imagine that’s a pretty widely held belief in Korea.


  7. -We keep forgetting the huge surplus of women in eastern europe and the CIS. THe men died in droves due to alcoholism, heroin, and suicide during the 1990’s. Russian women are not all hookers. A lot of them are getting married to Koreans/Chinese/ etc.


    1. Sorry for taking so long to reply guys.

      Eric–It is strange that Middle-Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait didn’t get any international attention about female infanticide, but as my own knowledge of the region extends little beyond what I read in the Economist each week and a paper I wrote as a student on why a revolution occurred in Iran and not Iraq (the latter of which wasn’t all that bad a place to live in the 1970s), then I shouldn’t speculate too much really. Their value as oil-producers meant the Reagan administration especially wanted such knowledge and criticisms of key US allies kept to a minimum maybe?

      Back to Korea, I’m curious to hear from someone with firsthand experience about how big a deal the sex ration was considered in the mid-1990s, how people felt about it and so on. I’m aware that it’s largely been dealt with of course (although I acknowledge, like Kushibo pointed out here, that Korea has yet to feel the full force of its own demographic “wave” of that) but all my knowledge is from books really.

      That particular paragraph from Therese Hesketh is certainly problematic, but minus that then I don’t reeeeaally see an anti-male bias in the NYT report myself, although I can certainly see the potential for it. Still, I’d never considered the “excess males/missing females” element to reports on the phenomenon before, so thanks for bringing that to my attention.

      Could you please elaborate on which countries and the numbers exactly? Not disagreeing necessarily, but as far as I know the “demographic meltdown” has been largely confined to the CIS, yes?


  8. Actually, the female infanticide in S.A., Kuwait, et al. appears to have ended abruptly, right around the time that Reagan was elected. I don’t believe there’s any connection. I’m guessing that in the traditional, nomadic society of pre-oil Arabia, female infanticide was commonly practiced as a way to manage scarce resources like food and water. After the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, those countries became so wealthy they hardly knew what to do with all their cash, and it was then that they seem to have decided that they could let all the baby girls live, too.

    Back to Korea, in the mid 90s I saw numerous articles in the press fretting about the imbalance in the sex ratio, along with calls to put an end to the practice of selective abortion enabled by pre-natal sex identification via sonograms. It was pointed out that the sex ratio for first born children was almost normal, i.e. around 105 – 107 boys per 100 girls. But the ratio for second borns was something like 140 to 100, and for third borns the ratio may have been greater than 2: 1

    I’m surprised, really, that the problem has been corrected. Was it the government policies that threatened doctors with imprisonment if they performed sonograms and selective abortions that did the trick?

    Perhaps one of the main reasons that the problem seems to have been corrected is that many couples are simply stopping with one child. Girl or boy it doesn’t matter, they’re only having one.

    Another likely contributing factor is that societal attitudes regarding the importance of having a son appear to have undergone a major, major shift. Given that only male descendents were considered capable of performing chae-sa for their ancestors, the significance of this development is enormous. The ramifications of this on the Confucian ethical foundation of Korean society will be very interesting to observe.

    Back in 1982, when I first arrived in Korea I remember seeing posters in the subway stations that showed an adorable little girl around the age of seven, with an adoring father and mother, and this slogan “A well raised daughter is more valuable than many sons.” I think that campaign was also carried out in magazines and newspapers, and possibly on billboards and TV as well.

    One of my Korean language teachers once joked that ‘the government used to campaign for people to have just two children (that probably began early in the Park Jung-hee regime), and then they were saying just have one, and pretty soon it would be one child per two families, so new couples would have to check out their neighbors very carefully before deciding which house or apartment to move into!’

    Fast forward 27 years, and it would appear that the government’s family planning campaign worked too well, as now they’re worried that the birth rate is too low. I wonder how many little girls saw those posters when they were growing up and took it to heart?

    Of course, the more important factors in the low birth rate are the high cost of raising and educating children, the lack of child care that would enable mothers to return to work, the break-down of the extended family, which makes it less likely that grandmothers and aunts will be sharing in the child rearing, and the fact that most Korean men are still unlikely or unwilling to take on much of the domestic load, which could mean that the wives and mothers are less willing to have additional children. The trend of many women (generally highly educated with good jobs) refusing to get married at all, as well as the increase in the number of DINKs in Korea, also suppress the birth rate.


  9. Wow, those Chinese Guys will have some serious frustation on the horizon. Hopefully with their blossoming economy comes a blossoming outlook on sexuality because they’re going to have do to be a little more open minded when all the women are taken.

    1. Those guys might have to start watching a little more Will and lot less Grace.

    2. Importation! Bring in the horde of overseas mail order brides from the far reaches of the earth. most likely america since the economy absolutely sucks, maybe becoming an American mail order bride might be an opportunity?

    3. Maybe the women can break out the bigamy and start racking up those husbands. I’m sure every Chinese gal can use a back up husband or three in case one is shipped off to war.

    nice blog. Care for some cross blog linkage?


    1. Eric–Sorry again for not replying earlier, but thank you very much for all that information, although you seem to have answered many of your own questions! One thing I may add though, is that literally less than a handful of doctors and so on have ever been arrested for performing selective abortions, ironic considering the huge abortion industry being technically illegal in itself, and also that when my own wife was pregnant the nurses were quite happy to tell us the sex of our two daughters – with no euphemisms of “it looks strong” or “it’s very pretty” either – although I doubt that at the time we looked like we’d be anything less than ecstatic either way!

      Personally I think the shift in attitudes is due to an even split between genuine shifts in attitude and choosing to have only one child like you say.

      If you (or anyone else) are interested in reading what I’ve written on the issues raised in your last paragraph by the way, please see here and here.


  10. James, I’d be curious to know whether your wife remembers that family planning campaign of the early-mid 1980’s and what kind of impression it might have made on her and her peers?

    During the last couple of years I lived in Korea, there was a bill, or two, introduced in the National Assembly to formally legalize the practice that everyone knew was going on. It was apparent that the government and law enforcement had been complicit in turning a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands of abortions that were being carried out each year. Obviously, the policy of non-enforcement was consitent with the government’s overarching goal of slowing down population growth. It was (and remains today?) de facto, legal.

    Naturally, as soon as the matter of making abortion officially legal, the Catholic Church and other “pro-life” folk raised loud objections.

    I’m somewhat surprised to hear that there were ANY doctors arrested for performing selective abortions. But, perhaps making an example of a few was all it took to persuade the majority to stop.


    1. Eric–About to hit the sack before a trip to Seoul sorry, so asking my wife will have to wait. But in the meantime just a quick note to say that by coincidence I’ll be covering all those (eventually) in this series of posts here, here, and here, although if you can’t wait until then I highly recommend this book that I’ll be using, which is probably THE definitive guide to Korean population control policies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s