December 22nd, 2011

Read This, Not That: All The Single Men

Writing for Good Magazine, Sushma Subramanian and Deborah Jian Lee examine the effects China’s gender imbalances have had on poor men from rural villages:

After a generation born under these conditions, a marriage squeeze was inevitable. “If there are more men than women, someone is going to be left out, and it’s going to be the poor guys,” Edlund says. One day, as Chen ventures into the jasmine-scented jungle to find his water buffalo, he describes his family members, many of whom have been impacted by these demographic shifts. His brother keeps striking out with girls he dates in the city; his sister found a husband instantly; his uncle, desperate for companionship, bought a trafficked bride from Vietnam.

Chen’s younger brother, Chen Hongyuan, moved to Shenzhen in 2000 in search of higher-paying work and a larger pool of single women. But he found that dating in the city was still a challenge. “Aside from the extremely handsome, rich, and powerful, most Chinese guys have a tough time finding wives,” he says. The rugged 30-year-old works at a plastic-toy factory in Shenzhen, China’s manufacturing hub. Even though he met the love of his life there—“an unforgettable true love”—their fairy tale quickly came undone when she told her parents.

After their 10-month whirlwind romance, the woman, whom he met on the factory floor, returned to her home in Guanxi Province over the Lunar New Year to deliver the news. Her parents told her she was too young for marriage. Her work in the factories was still an important source of revenue for their family. And when they discovered Chen Hongyuan’s social status, they balked. He’s from a village? He works in an assembly line? They locked her in the house for months.

Read the full article here.

December 15th, 2011

Read This, Not That: Man and Beast

Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Justin E.H. Smith looks at the unique and wide role animals play in human culture, both as symbols of the other and as manifestations of our hidden selves. Over the course of history, we have increasingly removed ourselves, intellectually, from community with the animal world around us. What can we learn from that cultural history? And what might we lose when we cease to think of ourselves as beasts?

Before and after Darwin, the specter of the animal in man has been compensated by a hierarchical scheme that separates our angelic nature from our merely circumstantial, and hopefully temporary, beastly one. And we find more or less the same separation in medieval Christian theology, Romantic nature poetry, or current cognitive science: All of it aims to distinguish the merely animal in us from the properly human. Thus Thoreau, widely lauded as a friend of the animals, cannot refrain from invoking animality as something to be overcome: “Men think that it is essential,” he writes, “that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride 30 miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.” What the author of Walden misses is that men might be living like baboons not because they are failing at something or other, but because they are, in fact, primates. Thoreau can’t help invoking the obscene and filthy beasts that have, since classical antiquity, formed a convenient contrast to everything we aspire to be.

Read the full article here.

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