The other day, I was asked for my thoughts on the trending hashtag, “Shenzhen girl (深圳女孩儿).” I didn’t understand the question because I don’t Tik Tok. According to my young friend, the hashtag origin story occurred when a couple Shenzhen girls walked into a Beijing bar. The Beijing girls chatted about falling in love and relationships; the #shenzhengirls talked about making money and what they would buy with their cash. Apparently, this generation of #shenzhengirls are too materialistic. I wasn’t shocked by the hashtag because sexing the greed is an ongoing Shenzhen conversation, where people have tended to attribute a woman’s economic success to an immoral character.
But things aren’t so straight-forwardly chauvinistic.
A few days after #shenzhengirl came to my attention, the meme “Girls today if they don’t work hard they’ll be grabbed for marriage … and they’ll have to give birth to two children (现在的女孩子 如果不努力 是会被抓去结婚的 。。。并且还要生二胎)“ popped up in a We Chat group. The humor, of course, is the idea that it’s better for young women to be independent than a wife and mother. When I showed the joke to a friend of mine, she sighed and commented, “Girls don’t have any easy choices.”
I noticed the meme because it appeared in one of the more traditional groups that I’m in. It’s a group where productive men and loving women are assumed to be the moral basis of good marriage, which is in turn thought to be the basis of a healthy society. Jokes and criticisms tend to circle around the traditional ideal of a single-surname village / association, which is held up as a symbol of the good society. However, even in this group, there’s no easy agreement about what a #shenzhengirl should become as she ages into womanhood. Instead, there are questions about what girls and women are entitled to as family members, along with questions about what a bride owes her husband’s family. Indeed, “traditional” in this context seems to mean “accepts the idea of sacrificing oneself for husband’s family,” while “modern,” which is a desirable value in other contexts is tied to a woman’s social successes. And yes, being traditional or modern often isn’t a choice, but a response to a specific situation.
So point du jour: the shift I’m noticing in the debate about #shenzhengirls is that what used to be a consensus about girls and women being held responsible for upholding family values is being questioned. As more and more young couples face the practical reality of “naked marriages (裸婚)”–no ring, no wedding, no car, no house–the value of marriage itself is suspect, as #shenzhengirls legit wonder, “what’s in it for me?”