If you think it's hard for "leftover" single women to find love, consider the enormous obstacles faced by older divorced or widowed women with a child, in the "worst" case, a son. Wang Jie explores their plight.
Single mothers in general have a tough time all over the world and that's especially true in China. They have to be strong and for many of them, love is a luxury.
Whether divorced or widowed, they have a child to rear, studies to supervise and higher education to plan. And they often work to support themselves, though Chinese parents frequently help financially and take care of children.
They encounter various sorts of discrimination, often in employment where employers may not consider them reliable. Or they may be considered fair game for harassment. In the past many divorcees were looked down upon and often blamed for the breakup of their marriage.
But with more divorcees today, that kind of discrimination fades. Then there's pity, which can be hard to take. It also is very difficult for them to socialize, especially in a world full of couples, dating or married, where marriage seems to be everyone's goal, and in a society where the children of single mothers may also feel that they are treated differently from other children.
The number of single mothers is increasing since divorce rates keep rising each year. About 2.87 million Chinese couples broke up in 2011, a 7.3-percent increase from the year before, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
There are also quite a few young widows with children.
Many divorced men and widowers don't have problems remarrying, especially if they have assets and a good job. Few take custody of the children of their previous marriage, so they are "unencumbered."
It's very different for single mothers, and sometimes their own mothers urge them not to take custody of their child in a divorce, because a child in tow could kill romance and marriage prospects.
For many divorced and widowed Chinese women, romantic love seems like a distant prospect, and they are much more pragmatic.
"When my son was only two years old, my husband had an affair with his secretary, and I divorced him," says Caroline Qiu, an HR manager at an international company. "Now I have no plan to step into marriage. Maybe I am more practical now. It is almost impossible to find someone who could accept my son, and I really hate to see men who think that my little son is my burden."
It is difficult for a Chinese man to fully accept a child who is not "his" biologically, because in China, blood ties are very important, if not all-important.
"I wouldn't consider marrying a single mother," says Hu Bing, 37, a so-called "diamond bachelor."
"I cannot treat the child as my heir, it's the trace of her first marriage, the trace of another man. I don't see any need for me to dive into such a complicated relationship. No way!" he adds.
There's a common, somewhat humorous saying in China these days, "The most unprivileged group in society are the divorced women in their 30s or 40s, plus a mischievous son."
Young women are prized as marriage partners and those who are 30 or older are commonly described as "leftover" women, even moldy tofu.
Sons are especially undesirable, because boys are considered more difficult to handle than girls. Further, the expenses for a son's education and marriage can be daunting.
Among many matchmaking advertisements by men in Shanghai, "no child" is frequently a requirement in the case of a woman who is divorced or widowed.