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Chapter Ten Property, Patriarchy, and the Chinese State Leta Hong Fincher When I interviewed university graduate Wang Li in 2011,1 she was a young Communist Party member employed with generous benefits at China’s Public Security Bureau in Beijing. She had recently taken her life savings of 60,000 renminbi (RMB; almost US$10,000 at the time) and given it to her boyfriend to help buy an apartment in his name in preparation for their marriage. The couple originally wanted to rent, but their parents said they must purchase a home before marrying. Although Wang is an only child, her parents did not contribute money toward the home purchase because they believed it was the responsibility of the man’s family to provide the home. The boyfriend’s parents had saved 200,000 RMB for the down payment, and they insisted that the home be registered solely in their son’s name. Wang felt that this was unfair since she was contributing her life savings to the purchase, so she argued with her boyfriend for six months, from October 2010 through the following March, over the home registration: “I won’t hide it from you. My boyfriend and I started to quarrel. . . . I only spoke with two good friends about our fighting, but I was really thinking of breaking up with him. I felt he didn’t trust me. He had this attitude toward my family that I didn’t understand, and for a while we were very cold to each other.” Wang was so angry with her boyfriend that she almost called off the wedding . But even Wang’s mother urged her to make up with her boyfriend because it was not worth breaking up the impending marriage over the issue of property registration, and she said that Wang should simply agree to register only her boyfriend’s name on the property deed. Wang continued to waver about the marriage until one day her boyfriend’s mother called her in tears, saying that Wang’s professional success threatened the security of the upcoming marriage, so it was very important to register the home in her son’s name. Wang told me: His family thinks I’m more capable than him. Even though I’m younger, the companies I worked for are better than his [Wang’s income was higher 195 than that of her boyfriend]. So his mother thinks her son needs some kind of guarantee. She thinks I’m more likely to leave him than he is to leave me. His mother started crying on the phone and I thought, forget it. . . . After all, she’s my elder [zhangbei]. Since she started crying, I knew that this issue was also really hurting her. So I thought, forget about it, whatever works is fine. Wang agreed to register the home in her boyfriend’s name, and in November 2011 they married. She was only 25 years old at the time she agreed to marry. She could have simply broken up with her boyfriend, which she had wanted to do, and would still have had time to find another potential marriage partner with whom she was happier. Why did she relent? One major reason is the persistence of the family deference system, which (as illustrated throughout this book) is not unique to China. Wang’s belief in filial piety, in her duty to her elders, all of whom pressured her to marry and to register the marital home in the man’s name, outweighed Wang’s desire to have economic independence. Even her own mother told her that it was not important to have her name registered on the marital property. Another reason Wang agreed to marry was that she and her elders viewed her as being on the cusp of becoming a shengnü (leftover woman), a term widely used to describe an unmarried woman older than around age 27. Since Wang was 25 years old, she did not view herself as having the luxury of waiting to find a more suitable husband. Even though many women in Beijing marry in their late twenties or later, Wang said that in her parents’ hometown of Changchun in northeastern China, “most women marry at around 24 or 25.” I repeatedly asked Wang throughout our two-and-a-half-hour interview if she regretted giving up her effort to register her name on the marital property deed along with her husband’s name, but she showed no sign of regret: “I...


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