BEIJING — One wife, many husbands.
That's the solution to China's huge surplus of single men, says Xie Zuoshi, an economics professor at the Zhejing University of Finance and Economics, whose recent proposal to allow polyandry has gone viral.
Legalizing marriage between two men would also be a good idea, Xie wrote in a post that has since been removed from his blogs. (He has at least three blogs, and his Sina blog alone has more than 2.6 million followers.)
By 2020, China will have an estimated 30 million bachelors — called guanggun, or "bare branches." Birth control policies that since 1979 have limited many families to one child, a cultural preference for boys and the widespread, if illegal, practice of sex-selective abortion have contributed to a gender imbalance that hovers around 117 boys born for every 100 girls.
Though some could perhaps detect a touch of Jonathan Swift in the proposal, Xie wrote that he was approaching the problem from a purely economic point of view.
Many men, especially poor ones, he noted, are unable to find a wife and have children, and are condemned to living and dying without offspring to support them in old age, as children are required to do by law in China. But he believes there is a solution.
A shortage raises the price of goods — in this case, women, he explained. Rich men can afford them, but poor men are priced out. This can be solved by having two men share the same woman.
"With so many guanggun, women are in short supply and their value increases," he wrote. "But that doesn't mean the market can't be adjusted. The guanggun problem is actually a problem of income. High-income men can find a woman because they can pay a higher price. What about low-income men? One solution is to have several take a wife together."
He added: "That's not just my weird idea. In some remote, poor places, brothers already marry the same woman, and they have a full and happy life."
Polyandry has been practiced before in China, particularly in impoverished areas, as a way to pool resources and avoid the breakup of property.
Yet much of the online response to Xie's proposal has been outrage.
"Is this a human being speaking?" a user with the handle dihuihui wrote on Weibo.
"Trash-talking professor, many single guys want to ask, 'Where's your wife?' " a user who identified as Shanyu jinxiang1887003537 wrote.
Attempts to contact Xie on Monday were unsuccessful.
On Sunday, he published an indignant rebuttal on one of his blogs, accusing his critics of being driven by empty notions of traditional morality that are impractical and selfish — even hypocritical.
"Because I promoted the idea that we should allow poor men to marry the same woman to solve the problem of 30 million guanggun, I've been endlessly abused," he wrote. "People have even telephoned my university to harass me. These people have groundlessly accused me of promoting immoral and unethical ideas.
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"If you can't find a solution that doesn't violate traditional morality," he continued, "then why do you criticize me for violating traditional morality? You are in favor of a couple made up of one man, one woman. But your morality will lead to 30 million guanggun with no hope of finding a wife. Is that your so-called morality?"
In addition to provoking guardians of traditional morality, the proposal has been pilloried by feminists and gay rights advocates.
"Men are publicly debating how to allocate women, as though women were commodities like houses or cars, in order to realize some grand political ideal originating from either the patriarchal left or the patriarchal right," Zheng Churan, one of five women's rights activists detained in March, wrote in an essay for a WeChat group called Groundbreaking.
"Behind the imbalanced sex ratio of 30 million bachelors lie 30 million baby girls who died due to sex discrimination. But somehow everyone's still crying that some men can't find wives."
Xie also has supporters. On his Sina blog, he posted a comment from a student at Nanchang Hangkong University. "You are standing alongside the poorest working-class people," the student wrote. "When there's no better way, why don't we get rid of so-called morality and solve society's problems?