This English translation was originally published on the China Partnership Blog on March 29, 2019, and is replicated here with permission. We thank Hannah, Brent, and the China Partnership translation team for their work. Background research information in the introduction.

Challenge #2: Societal Discrimination Against Single Moms

A single Buddhist mother said: ‘If I had aborted my child, I would be having a good life. But I decided to keep the child and to become a single mother. Single mothers are particularly vulnerable to societal discrimination. Many people think we are promiscuous.’ The fact that many think single mothers are ‘promiscuous’ shows the moral discrimination single mothers face in society.  

There are a couple reasons why single mothers are morally condemned in Chinese society. On the one hand, they defy traditional sexual and reproductive ethics. On the other hand, their decision to give birth breaks from the traditional family structure of one husband and one wife. The partners of some single mothers are married. These single mothers will very likely be called humiliating names like ‘ernai’ (concubine) or ‘xiaosan’ (mistress) by society.[2]

Single mothers have reproductive freedom. It is unreasonable to place this moral burden on their shoulders. The partners of those being called ‘ernai’ and ‘xiaosan’ have violated marriage law, and yet society does not humiliate them with similar names. This reveals the gender inequality inherent in society’s moral condemnation. Moreover, the definition of ernai is quite ambiguous. Not all single mothers whose partners are married are ernai.  

For instance, Meigui’s partner is married. But Meigui doesn’t consider herself a xiaosan or an ernai because she has more financial resources than the father of her child. Moreover, she has basically taken on the responsibility of raising the child all by herself. Even so, Meigui has suffered many years of insults by the wife of her partner. ‘We both feel miserable in this relationship, and the law doesn’t protect us. To some degree, I am a victim too. But what am I supposed to do? I’m not sure.’ Those who use the term ernai stigmatize single mothers by embracing traditional societal morals.

Moral pressure pushes many single mothers to hide their identity. For example, consider Meigui.  Even though she does not see herself as a xiaosan, she still keeps her marital status a secret from her family members. ‘My hometown is somewhere else. I have lived in Guangzhou for twenty years. When I gave birth, he (her partner) went to my hometown with me and told my mother we were married. To this day, my family knows nothing about him being married to a different woman.’

Those whose partners are single also choose to hide their identity, fearing shame and a lack of understanding from society. Migrant worker Kafei, whose partner left her because his family disapproved of their relationship, chose to give birth and gave her child to her parents back home to raise for her. She continues to work in the city to support her family. Kafei said that people would ‘look down’ on her if she told them. She said she didn’t want others to know because ‘it isn’t a good thing.’ ‘Even someone who has experienced exactly the same thing won’t show me empathy.’ Therefore, she hides her identity as a single mother at work.”

[2] Translator’s note: Ernai usually refers to a young mistress of men with wealth and high social status who primarily seek material and monetary rewards from the relationship. Xiaosan is used for women who commit adultery with men of normal social status. The term connotes wrecking others’ marriages and families.

Prayer Points (China Partnership):

  • Pray for repentance and mercy for the fathers who have abandoned their children. Ask the Spirit to begin a work of reconciliation in their hearts.
  • Pray for women who continue in ungodly relationships to repent and find the strength in Christ to live according God’s design for life. Pray that their identities would be renewed in Christ, empowering them to live as daughters of Christ with the benefits of being his heirs.
  • Pray against a culture that encourages abortion as a way to absolve responsibility. Pray that men and women will come to fear God and recognize the sanctity of life.
  • Pray for the church to have a robust, public voice concerning marriage, the family, and sexual intimacy. As China’s family structures continue to deteriorate, pray that what the church has to say about God’s design of men, women, and the family is heard as good news and hope.

READ: China’s Invisible Women, Conclusion: The Hope of Single Mothers