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A once-in-a-decade population census has shown that births in China have fallen to their lowest level since the s - leading to calls for an end to birth control policies. But some in China say these policies aren't the only thing that's stopping them.

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In China from very early times, men have been seen as the core of the family. When women enter the early historical record, it is often because they caused men problems. Some women schemed to advance their own sons when their husband had sons by several women. In BCE, for instance, the daughter of one of the most powerful ministers in the state of Zheng learned from her husband that the ruler had ordered him to kill her father.

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Over 27? In China, you could be labelled a "leftover woman" by the state - but some professional Chinese women these days are happy being single. Huang Yuanyuan is working late at her job in a Beijing radio newsroom. She's also stressing out about the fact that the next day, she'll turn I'm one year older," she says.

I have no boyfriend. I'm under big pressure to get married.

Huang is a confident, personable young woman with a good salary, her own apartment, an MA from one of China's top universities, and a wealth of friends. Still, she knows that these days, single, urban, educated women like her in China are called "sheng nu" or "leftover women" - and it stings.

She feels pressure from her friends and her family, and the message gets hammered in by China's state-run media too. Even the website of the government's supposedly feminist All-China Women's Federation featured articles about "leftover women" - until enough women complained. State-run media started using the term "sheng nu" in That same year the government warned that China's gender imbalance - caused by selective abortions because of the one-child policy - was a serious problem.

National Bureau of Statistics data shows there are now about 20 million more men under 30 than women under Census figures for China show that around one in five women aged is unmarried. The proportion of unmarried men that age is higher - over a third. But that doesn't mean they will easily match up, since Chinese men tend to "marry down", both in terms of age and educational attainment. So if you are a leftover woman, you are A-quality. But it's the "A-quality" of intelligent and educated women that the government most wants to procreate, according to Leta Hong-Fincher.

She cites a statement on population put out by the State Council - China's cabinet - in Some local governments in China have taken to organising matchmaking events, where educated young women can meet eligible bachelors.

China's 'leftover women', unmarried at 27

The goal is not only to improve the gene pool, believes Fincher, but to get as many men paired off and tied down in marriage as possible - to reduce, as far as possible, the army of restless, single men who could cause social havoc. But the tendency to look down on women of a certain age who aren't married isn't exclusively an attitude promoted by the government. Chen not her real namewho works for an investment consulting company, knows this all too well. She's single and enjoying life in Beijing, far away from parents in a conservative southern city who, she says, are ashamed that they have an unmarried year-old daughter.

And my parents would also feel they were totally losing face, when their friends all have grandkids already.

Chen's parents have tried setting her up on blind dates. At one point her father threatened to disown her if she wasn't married before the end of the year. Now they say if she's not going to find a man, she should come back home and live with them.

China: the men who are single and the women who don't want kids

Chen knows what she wants - someone who is "honest and responsible", and good company, or no-one at all. Meanwhile, the state-run media keep up a barrage of messages aimed at just this sort of "picky" educated woman. But girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult," re an excerpt from an article titled, Leftover Women Do Not Deserve Our Sympathy, posted on the website of the All-China Federation of Women in March It continues: "These girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness.

The tragedy is, they don't realise that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time they get their MA or PhD, they are already old - like yellowed pearls. The All-China Federation of Women used to have more than 15 articles on its website on the subject of "leftover women" - offering tips on how to stand out from a crowd, matchmaking advice, and even a psychological analysis of why a woman would want to marry late.

In the last few months, it has dropped the term from its website, and now refers to "old" unmarried women which it classes as over 27, or sometimes over 30but the expression remains widely used elsewhere.

If it sounds odd to call women "leftover" at 27 or 30, China has a long tradition of women marrying young. But the age of marriage has been rising, as it often does in places where women become more educated.

Inthe average age for urban Chinese women to marry for the first time was just under By the s it was 25, and now it's A year-old marketing executive, who uses the English name Elissa, says being single at her age isn't half bad. I can hang out with my good friends whenever I like," she says. Sure, she says, during a hurried lunch break, her parents would like her to find someone, and she has gone on a few blind dates, for their sake. But, she says, they've been a "disaster".

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But I don't believe in the blind dates. How can you get to know a person in this way? Elissa says she'd love to meet the right man, but it will happen when it happens. Meanwhile, life is good - and she has to get back to work. You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook. White Horse Village - special report.

View comments. More on this story. Published 8 July