It is still uncommon for women in China to take the initiative in relationships. Men are usually the first to ask women out, and they are the first to propose. And it isn't usual for women to openly talk about being thirty and single. When women are unmarried and in their 30s, they can derogatorily be called “left-over women” or shengnü in Chinese.
But gender roles aren't as fixed as the used to be in China. And Zhang's very public proposal, where she mentions her age, shows this transformation.
With tears in her eyes, she said emotionally at the end of the concert:
I want to say, between the last years 18-30 of my life, I hadn't been waiting, because someone has always been there for me. […] I am 30 now, today I am in Changsha again. I want to do something I wanted to do when I was 20. I have considered throughout, I don't want to be single. In the past 10 years, you fans have accompanied me, and this person has accompanied me. I have made up my mind, if you want to marry me now, just come to the stage.
Her boyfriend then joined her on stage and gave her a tight hug and a long kiss. Zhang’s fans bursted into cheers.
Afterwards, many people debated whether it is acceptable for women to take initiative in relationships. In the opinion page of a government party affiliated newspaper The Beijing News, an article by Hou Hongbin posed a question to critics who accused Zhang of taking advantage and putting her wealthy boyfriend on the spot. The article “Are women proposing marriage really taking advantage of men?“ supported Zhang’s move:
I know that some famous affection experts have been claiming — [in relationship with men] women should not take initiative, otherwise women will become worthless, and doomed to be abandoned by men. The same logic applies to the saying that compared with men, women should not be richer, have higher education degrees, or be smarter. Women should pretend to be lesser than men, otherwise men would have pressure, feel low self-worth and hate women.
Initially, I thought Zhang Liangying’s act may have embarrassed herself. But now, it makes her shine. Women struggled for many years and finally become goddesses [stars]. Don't these women just want to have the life that they have been pursuing? Don't they just want to select careers and lifelong companions that can advance and retreat altogether?
In my 13-year life experience, if a man wants to marry you, he must propose marriage to you or talk with you about the wedding day. It is totally unnecessary for a woman to clearly indicate or hint to a man. My female friends, who had forced their boyfriends into marriage, resulted in either splitting-up or success, but this woman [who had succeed in proposing marriage] has low rank in the family. Young girls, please pay attention to my words. Some may succeed in proposing marriage, but few do.
No house, no marriage
In the 1960s, the proof of men's readiness to get married was to prepare for the “three indispensable things” or sandajian (三大件) – a watch, a bicycle and a radio. As China’s economy has been speeding up in recent decades, now, sandajian has become a house, a car and bulk of money.
“No house, no marriage” has become the cardinal advice for Chinese men. According to a survey published by a China’s dating website in 2014, about 71.8% of women thought they are worthy of being married to men who have houses. But the high price of real estate is plaguing most single men in China. For many Chinese men without love nests, a dating relationship is unlikely to lead to marriage.
Given these circumstances, this article encourages women to be more courageous in proposing marriage:
Actually, the reason — men do not want to talk about marriage with women — is not because they oppose marriage, but they are worried whether they have the wealth to give women happiness. At this point, women should actively “propose marriage.” By poking a hole in a paper window, women give men confidence [they need to pursue] marriage.