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Relational Dignity, State Law, and Chinese Leftover Women’s Choices in Marriage and Childbearing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2021

Qian Liu
University of Victoria
E-mail address:


Legal scholars tend to understand dignity as an intrinsic value that each individual gains at birth. This article aims to rethink dignity from a relational perspective. As dignity is highly dependent on other people’s judgement and evaluations in China, I use “relational dignity” to stress the precarious and relational nature of dignity in societies in which people attach great importance to guanxi networks. I discuss how relational dignity and state law interact to shape leftover women’s choices in marriage and childbearing. The precarious and relational nature of dignity motivates leftover women to follow dominant social norms in order to fit in. As a result, it reinforces state law’s discrimination against unmarried women and single mothers. On the other hand, the rubber-stamp quality of state law enables leftover women to use legal recognition to win societal recognition and attain relational dignity.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2021

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