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The hope was that this would spur young people to marry (and eventually, bear children) as soon as possible.

The state is especially worried about the millions of surplus men in China, who were born after the 1970s as a result of gender-selective abortion and are now looking for brides.

Xuan Li does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members.

Behind them are their rural sisters, who have much less control over their own fates.

Deprived of educational and social resources by patriarchal tradition and a capitalist economy, rural women have little bargaining power compared to their urban counterparts against unwanted marriages, inequality between spouses, or even violence within or for the sake of marriage.

According to state media, it may be 24 million or 33 million.

View the full list One of the greatest fears of Chinese parents is coming true: China’s young people are turning away from marriage. After a whole decade of increases in the national marriage rate, China witnessed its second year of decline in the number of newly registered unions in 2015, with a 6.3% drop from 2014 and 9.1% from 2013.

This was accompanied by a rise in the age of marriage, which has increased by about a year and a half in the first ten years of this century.

Typically rural and impoverished, these unwed men – upset “bare branches” who are not able to add offshoots to their family tree – are considered a threat to social stability because of the financial, social and sexual frustration they face.

People’s Daily recently stressed that “leftover” men constitute a more pressing crisis than women in a similar situation, quoting a survey on unmarried rural men that found some of them engage in criminal activities such as gambling, prostitution, and human trafficking. And while romance and coupledom are much endorsed by both men and women in their 20s and 30s, marriage as a legal institution is no longer a must.

Hong Kong and Taiwan, for instance, both have much higher ages of first marriage than mainland China.

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