As China struggles to keep marriage rates up, Chinese people are starting to take aim at superstition.
A letter urging the government to speak out against folk beliefs went viral on Wednesday.
It warned officials of the “Year of the Widow,” a belief that getting wed this year brings bad luck.
China is debating whether the government should warn against against superstitions that say 2024 is a bad year to marry, as the country frets over its declining and aging population.
“There are folk rumors that this year is the ‘Year of the Widow’ and is not suitable for marriage,” said a letter to China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs that went viral on Chinese social media on Wednesday. “This seriously deviates from common and scientific sense.”
It’s not clear who sent the message on January 11 through the ministry’s forum, which takes open questions from citizens. They asked Beijing to issue a public notice advising people against allowing superstition to affect their life decisions.
And officials appear to be listening. “We are giving attention to the suggestion you raised,” the ministry wrote on Monday.
Its response has ignited conversation about the validity of the folk belief, with more than 300 million views on the topic on Weibo, China’s version of X.
The belief involves the lack of a “beginning of spring” day, also known as lichun, at the start of a lunar year.
This year’s lichun falls on February 4, before the Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 10, meaning the coming year won’t include a beginning of spring day.
Such a lunar year is sometimes dubbed the “Year of the Widow” because ancient superstition associates spring with masculine energy, and getting married at such a time is thought to bring bad luck and divorce.
“Which year doesn’t have widows? What does spring have anything to do with it?” Beijing-based blogger Crying, Giggling, Laughing wrote on Weibo.
“There surely must be a reason behind thousands of years of folk tradition,” another person wrote in defense of the superstition.
The “Year of the Widow” isn’t a rare occurrence. Lunar New Years in 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2021 all lacked a lichun.
But marriage has become an area of increasing concern for China as Beijing began reporting in 2023 that the country’s population — for the first time since Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward — was shrinking.
Birth and marriage rates have been falling in recent years, signaling that China’s overall population will start aging far more quickly than it can accumulate wealth. Rapidly aging societies are troubling many East Asian countries too, but they’re armed with a far greater GDP per capita than China can boast.
Meanwhile, local governments have been debuting solutions to get young people to tie the knot, from propaganda urging working women to return to their hometowns and court bachelors to paid incentives for brides to marry under the age of 25.
So far, the statistics show these strategies haven’t been working. Young people in China say they feel increasingly unable to afford the socially accepted prerequisites for marriage like owning a car and property.
Many of the comments on Weibo capture this sentiment. “Whatever year it is, it’s not suitable,” one person wrote.
“First you need to find someone to marry,” wrote law blogger Chen Yiyu.
Meanwhile, in perhaps a positive sign for Beijing’s population hopes, the upcoming Lunar New Year will signify the start of the Year of the Dragon, thought to be a good year to bear children.
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