Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

October 29, 2015

"Economist Says Polyamory Can Solve China’s Gender Imbalance. Chinese Internet Explodes."

China announced today the end of its one-child policy, which has been in effect for the last 35 years. Just days earlier, the nation had an uproar over an economist's proposal for coping with the enormous gender imbalance that the policy has helped to create.

An official cartoon in the People's Daily announcing China's
new two-child policy. Will the picture make room for two husbands? 

For decades, China has been raising a lot more more boys than girls. Last year the birth ratio was 116 to 100. Traditional Chinese culture values sons over daughters, and the one-child policy, with its heavy sanctions, gave most parents just one chance. Early sex testing enables selective abortion of female fetuses (illegal but common), and many girl babies were put in orphanages to be adopted overseas. Or they quietly died at birth, with no inquiries as to how.

Chinese authorities estimate that by 2020, there will be 33.8 million excess males unable to find wives. By 2050 these unwilling bachelors — guang gun, "bare branches" — may amount to at least 20% of all Chinese men.

Throughout history and around the world, when a society has a large pool of excess males who will never find mates, they find family in criminal gangs and freelance armies. To preempt this, governments have often recruited them into real armies and gone to war to keep them occupied. US intelligence analysts worry about this.

Western polyfolks have long suggested that in China, polyandry — one wife marrying two or more husbands — is likely to arise here and there and ease the situation slightly. It is already said to happening informally a bit.

Earlier this week, Chinese authorities officially allowed the idea onto the table for public debate.

Economist Xie Zuoshi suggested that two men be allowed to marry a woman jointly, with full legal rights and privileges. The official People's Daily (circulation about 300 million in all editions) reported his ideas, indicating government approval for the question to go public. Was it a trial balloon?

Chinese social media erupted, mostly in condemnation.


First, here's the People's Daily article in its entirety (English edition):

Professor Sparks Anger Proposing Polygamy and Gay Marriage for China’s Millions of Bachelors

Professor Xie Zuoshi (Photo: People's Daily)
The birth ratio of boys compared with girls in China has been rising steadily, peaking in 2009 before dropping to 1.16 in 2014. Studies anticipated that at least 20 percent of men will be unable to marry in mid-21 century. By 2020, China will see 30 million unmarried men.

An economics professor has a unique, economic perspective: Chinese bachelors shall be allowed to share wives and marry each other.

Xie Zuoshi, an economics professor at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, said, “In terms of supply and demand, the rising number of bachelors has deepened the scarcity of women, whose value is increased consequently. Men with high incomes find wives first because they can afford to take care of their women. For those who are earning less, one option is to share a wife with another man,” Xie wrote on his blogpost. He also proposed that China shall make polygamy and gay marriage legal, or encourage men marrying women from other countries.

Xie’s comment immediately sparked heated debate online. Many netizens were offended and raised questions on his moral standard.

Here's the original (October 23, 2015).

● Next up, in the New York Times China blog The Sinosphere:

Not Enough Women in China? Let Men Share a Wife, an Economist Suggests

Men playing checkers in Beijing. By 2020,
China will have an estimated 30 million bachelors.

By Didi Kirsten Tatlow

One wife, many husbands.

That’s the solution to China’s huge surplus of single men, says Xie Zuoshi, an economics professor at the Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics, whose recent proposal to allow polyandry has gone viral.

Legalizing marriage between two men would also be a good idea, Mr. Xie wrote in a post that has since been removed from his blogs. (He has at least three blogs, and his Sina blog alone has more than 2.6 million followers.)

...Though some could perhaps detect a touch of Jonathan Swift in the proposal, Mr. Xie wrote that he was approaching the problem from a purely economic point of view.

Many men, especially poor ones, he noted, are unable to find a wife and have children, and are condemned to living and dying without offspring to support them in old age, as children are required to do by law in China. But he believes there is a solution.

A shortage raises the price of goods — in this case, women, he explained. Rich men can afford them, but poor men are priced out. This can be solved by having two men share the same woman.

...He added: “That’s not just my weird idea. In some remote, poor places, brothers already marry the same woman, and they have a full and happy life.” [He may have in mind China's Mosuo.]

Polyandry has been practiced before in China, particularly in impoverished areas, as a way to pool resources and avoid the breakup of property.

Yet much of the online response to Mr. Xie’s proposal has been outrage.

“Is this a human being speaking?” a user with the handle dihuihui wrote on Weibo.

“Trash-talking professor, many single guys want to ask, ‘Where’s your wife?’ ” a user who identified as Shanyu jinxiang1887003537 wrote.

...On Sunday, he published an indignant rebuttal on one of his blogs, accusing his critics of being driven by empty notions of traditional morality that are impractical and selfish — even hypocritical.

“Because I promoted the idea that we should allow poor men to marry the same woman to solve the problem of 30 million guanggun, I’ve been endlessly abused,” he wrote. “People have even telephoned my university to harass me. These people have groundlessly accused me of promoting immoral and unethical ideas.

“If you can’t find a solution that doesn’t violate traditional morality,” he continued, “then why do you criticize me for violating traditional morality? You are in favor of a couple made up of one man, one woman. But your morality will lead to 30 million guanggun with no hope of finding a wife. Is that your so-called morality?”

In addition to provoking guardians of traditional morality, the proposal has been pilloried by feminists and gay rights advocates.

“Men are publicly debating how to allocate women, as though women were commodities like houses or cars, in order to realize some grand political ideal originating from either the patriarchal left or the patriarchal right,” Zheng Churan, one of five women’s rights activists detained in March, wrote in an essay for a WeChat group called Groundbreaking.

...Mr. Xie also has supporters. On his Sina blog, he posted a comment from a student at Nanchang Hangkong University. “You are standing alongside the poorest working-class people,” the student wrote. “When there’s no better way, why don’t we get rid of so-called morality and solve society’s problems?”

Read the whole article (Oct. 26). Xie Zuoshi eventually reached the New York Times and responded (Oct. 27).

● From semi-independent Hong Kong, in the Hong Kong Free Press:

Let several men share one wife: Chinese professor’s answer to looming bachelor crisis

Xie's provocative blog post.

By Vivienne Zeng

...Xie Zuoshi... caused a storm in the Chinese media by saying poor men who cannot find wives should “bundle up to get one to share between themselves.”

Xie wrote several men sharing one wife is not a wild fantasy, but an idea which has been put into practice in China.

...If the 30 million extra single men cannot find women, they will turn into criminals and cause social instability, he said.

...In an ongoing poll on Weibo, 66.5% of the 7,700 respondents have said they don’t agree with polyandry.

Which suggests that a third do. The whole article (Oct. 23).

● As covered at Slate:

Economist Says Polyamory Can Solve China’s Gender Imbalance. Chinese Internet Explodes.

By Joshua Keating

...The proposal has provoked a furious backlash from readers who accuse him of “violating traditional morality,” forcing a fed-up Xie to clarify that he was not proposing that plural marriage be mandatory.

Xie, like economists everywhere in the world, was guilty mainly of not understanding that people don’t always respond well to utilitarian arguments for upending social convention. But the controversy also reveals some unfortunate sexist assumptions about the consequences of China’s gender imbalance.

...While China's one-child policy gets much of the blame, it should be noted that India, which doesn’t have similar laws, has a similar gender imbalance....

Much of the commentary on China’s imbalance has focused on the consequences of having so many men: It’s been blamed for the country’s rising crime rates, while young Chinese bachelors saving money in long-shot bids to attract wives have been blamed for imbalances in the global economy. But it would be a mistake to assume that the imbalance benefits women who their pick of an abundance of potential mates. Gender imbalances in China and throughout Asia have been blamed for an increase in sex trafficking and forced marriages.

...It was a bias against women that created this problem, but women seem to be disproportionately expected to deal with it. That used to mean pressure to find a husband as quickly as possible. Now, Xie suggests, they should have to find more than one.

The whole article (Oct. 26).


Meanwhile, China has a glimmer of its own modern polyamory movement. In relatively free-wheeling Shanghai, an article titled "All About Polyamory" appeared last spring in City Weekend, a chain of alternative-style magazines published in English in five cities. "Our team is comprised of locals and foreigners who love everything about the cities we call home," its staff writes.

The article is intermittently available at its original site (May 15, 2015), but you can also find it at another (May 19):

LGBeaT: All About Polyamory

Our latest series of columns has explored individual sexual and gender identities that are often hidden in the shadows. This time, we seek to expand your view of what relationships can look like.

For example: Regular three-way sex. A partner who leaves home to date multiple other people a week. A couple that shares two other lovers separately under the same roof.

What do these scenarios sound like to you? Your wildest fantasy? Cheating? Open relationships? Polygamy? Swingers?

Most monogamously minded people might choose one of the above descriptions. For others, they could all be examples of romantic relationships that occur outside of the conventional bounds of monogamy -- in other words, polyamorous relationships.

What Is Polyamory?

...Those who identify this way have consensual romantic and sexual relationships that are not exclusive to two people. Beautifully described by the Polyamory Society as the “non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously,” poly is also known as consensual, intentional, ethical or responsible “non-monogamy.”

So before you write off poly as just another way to get out of having a “real” relationship, let’s be clear: poly isn’t about sleeping around behind your partner’s back or racking up noncommittal fuck buddies. People who identify as poly are neither players, cheaters, nor hypersexual, at least not any more so than people who choose monogamous relationships. In fact, poly people can be just as deeply committed to their relationships with multiple people at a time.

What Does Polyamory Look Like?

Polyfidelity, one of the most popular forms of polyamory [sic], describes a closed group of three or more partners who consider themselves married or seriously committed, who are sexually exclusive and who often live together. Other polyamorous individuals have what they call primary and secondary relationships: They configure their relationships around a primary partner, with whom they share the deepest bond, while having one or more secondary relationships at the same time.

Still others allow for “open marriages” with varying degrees of romantic and sexual relationships outside of their life partners. Three people in a relationship are often called a triad, while four are a quad, but poly configurations can look like anything and everything.

Most poly people swear by communication as the key to their relationships. Within poly relationships, partners are in a constant process of negotiating and renegotiating boundaries and looking after each other’s emotional health -- basically, alllll the feels. An exhausting process, yes, but one that is also meaningful and necessary -- for any relationship form, really.

Recognizing Polyamory

So why is polyamory still invisible in many communities? Our society is built on norms that dictate loving only one person at a time and thatlegally and socially recognize monogamous, married, heterosexual couples to the exclusion of other relationship types.

But poly folks have meaningful connections; they have loving, stable relationships; they have families -- and they have the courage to subvert these restrictive norms by pushing the boundaries that define how we connect with and love one another.

Intentional non-monogamy isn’t for everyone; in fact, it isn’t for most people. But let’s be intentional about allowing people to love differently, intimately and openly.

City Weekend staff


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Anonymous Mel Millar said...

Regarding your inserted note on the second article, I believe the culture where two brothers sometimes share a wife is Tibetan, not the Mosuo. The Mosuo are known for "walking marriages" in which a woman is free to take as many (or as few) men to her bed as she wishes, with any children raised by her immediate family, not the father's. In Tibet however, there are (rare but still significant) cases of polyandry where two brothers take the same wife to avoid splitting a land inheritance between too many heirs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyandry_in_Tibet

October 30, 2015 12:59 AM  
Anonymous Chambord said...

There are other precedents. The Shanghaiist blog posts this:

"Professor Xie's modest proposal actually has a historical basis. Earlier this month, Quartz published an article explaining how in the 18th and 19th centuries in rural China, women took two (or sometimes more) husbands. This was practiced in every province of China, and for the most part, it was tolerated by the local communities."

Here is the Quartz article: http://qz.com/519572/it-was-normal-for-women-in-18th-and-19th-century-china-to-have-two-husbands/

October 30, 2015 8:53 AM  

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