nothing but you

Women in China Are Eyeing Younger Men

If recent data and TV shows like ‘Nothing But You’ are any indication, women in China are increasingly open to dating younger men

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6:35 AM HKT, Thu May 4, 2023 3 mins read

In China, unmarried women in their 30s are often referred to as ‘leftover women.’ There’s an old saying, ‘女大三抱金砖’ (‘a woman over 30 is like a golden brick’), implying that a more mature wife brings fortune to a family — but the idea never quite caught on in modern China.

Now though, attitudes and demographics around marriage are changing, and TV shows like Nothing But You are eager to spur along the conversation.

The 38-episode series wrapped up in mid-April with an impressive score of 8.2/10 on Douban, China’s equivalent of IMDb. It tells the story of a 32-year-old sports agent who falls in love with a 22-year-old athlete.

Watch the first episode below:

The show normalizes jiedilian, which literally translates to ‘older sister-younger brother love.’ (Wait, wait, come back — it’s just a term used to describe relationships between older women and younger men.)

Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness, K-pop star Taeyang with singer Min Hyo-rin, and Taiwanese model Lin Chi-ling marrying Japanese pop star Akira are just a few of the celebrity age gaps that have generated buzz in China.

Now though, that buzz is moving into the mainstream, and multiple TV shows are broaching these themes. In addition to Nothing But You, hit series like Find Yourself, Falling Into You, and She and Her Perfect Husband have all zeroed in on themes of older, successful women with wide-eyed young men.

Data seems to show the same. A recent survey conducted by dating app Soul showed that over 80% of Gen Z respondents were open to a jiedilian relationship.

In the city of Hangzhou, data shows a growing number of brides marrying younger men, with age gaps of seven, eight, or more than 10 years, all becoming more common.

nothing but you, jiedilian, dating in China

Age gaps and professional success are driving themes in Nothing But You. Image via IMDb

Nothing But You has won praise for depicting a realistic relationship between a career-focused, independent woman and an unfiltered, attentive young man.

This is not the first time the show’s screenwriter, Zhang Yingji, has focused on women’s issues. Her hit 2020 series Nothing But Thirty depicted three 30-year-old women navigating stereotypes and social expectations, seeking a balance between love and their careers.

“This time, I wanted to write about love itself,” she told China’s People magazine. “Nothing But You is about how two people can grow and respect each other, regardless of their ages.”

She added that many of her friends were in similar relationships. “I think it’s because women are becoming more successful and independent, while young men in their 20s are also becoming more open-minded to appreciate women.”

nothing but you jiedilian

Sophia Liu and her husband. Image via Douban

Thirty-eight-year-old Sophia Liu recently shared the details of her own jiedilian love story on Douban.

“We’ve been married four years,” she wrote about her younger husband. “I want to share a little about my experience being married to you.”

The post, full of cute couple photos and warm sentiments, left readers feeling hopeful.

“I hope that one day, like you, I can reach my own point of peace,” one user replied.

Liu told RADII that she hopes her “happy ending” can encourage more women not to give up on love.

“It’s natural for humans, especially creative people, to share our happiness and express ourselves to the world,” Liu explained. “I also want to show unmarried women over 30 that life has many possibilities. Don’t be discouraged or anxious about relationships or marriage. Young men can also be good life partners.”

“I think it’s a positive trend, which shows that our ideas are changing as the times progress. People can fall in love freely regardless of the age. And how wonderful older women are! This shows not just pale, skinny young girls can be loved. I’m glad to see our aesthetics and beauty standards are diversifying and developing.”

It appears that despite a waning marriage rate in China, the search for love continues.

Two years ago, 35-year-old freelancer Helen Hai, a self-professed marriage-phobe, entered into a relationship with a man 15 years younger.

Hai doesn’t want to get married or even reveal the relationship to her family. Right now, she’s enjoying navigating the commonalities and differences.

“I think the age difference is the fuel that ignites the fire of love,” she said. “It’s the difference that draws us to each other.”

Hai has a master’s degree in anthropology and feels that the trend is directly related to the change in women’s economic status. She said:

“Because when women are no longer dependent on men and their families for survival, they have more freedom when it comes to marriage and love. They can be with whoever they want.”

Another couple, with an age gap of 14 years, is exceedingly open about their relationship — they’ve been actively posting couple content on the lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu ever since they got together just one month after meeting each other.

“We met through our shared love for hip hop music,” they posted. “I like to listen, and he likes to sing.”

nothing but you jiedilian

One post from the couple highlighting their birth years. Image via Xiaohongshu

Although they acknowledge the age difference as a potential roadblock, they are determined to make it work.

“It takes more courage to be together because of the age difference and our different past experiences. We need to communicate more and face reality head-on.”

Cover image via IMDb

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