He was confused. His granddaughter had told him they were going to take some photos, which sounded like an odd thing to do when he was sick and in the hospital. Still, he went along because he trusted her. Then, when she came back into the room and he saw what she was wearing, he became even more bewildered. “What is happening?” he thought. When she finally revealed what was going on, the truth almost overwhelmed him.
Xuewei, Mr. Fu’s granddaughter, was the apple of his eye. Her life had taken a sharp turn at a very young age, when her parents separated. She was sent to live with Mr. Fu and his wife in Chengdu, China. Luckily, they were loving people and raised her with all the care and attention they could offer. She developed a bond with them so strong that she now considered them her mother and father. But there are downsides to having elderly parents.
When Xuewei was 18, she left the country to study in Switzerland and then Singapore. But she made a point to keep a close relationship with her grandparents. She talked to them frequently, telling them about her travels, her studies, and even her relationship problems. Eventually, she moved back to China to start her career and continued to keep her grandparents close. It turned out to be a wise decision because time was catching up with them.
After she graduated from university, Xuewei became a successful entrepreneur. The fruits of her work allowed her to live a good life, in which she tried to include her grandparents as much as possible. She took them on holidays abroad and has even brought them to nightclubs. But soon, the reality of the couple’s age started catching up with the family. And Xuewei didn’t know if she’d be able to handle what was to come.
Late last year, when Xuewei was 25 years old, she had to grapple with some heartbreaking news. Her grandfather, Fu Qiquan, fell seriously ill. Doctors told Xuewei they didn’t know if he would live for much longer. This was not Mr. Fu’s first health scare, but it truly made Xuewei realize that she would not have much more time to spend with the couple who raised her so lovingly. She became determined to make the most of it.
Mr. Fu was 87 years old. He had had heart problems for a long time, and two years prior he suffered a cerebral stroke that paralyzed his body and kept him in the hospital for three months. Xuewei knew her grandfather was becoming frailer with every passing day. So she decided not to leave his side. But something inside was telling her that it was not enough. She had to show him just how much she loved him before it was too late.
Xuewei would be at her grandfather’s side every day, feeding him and taking care of his every need. But she wanted to do more than that — she wanted to help him fulfill his life’s dreams. She knew that what he always wanted was to see her walk down the aisle. There was one problem, though: she didn’t have a boyfriend and wasn’t planning on getting married anytime soon. But she wasn’t about to let that get in the way of making her grandpa happy.
For Xuewei, the primary focus for her personal life at the moment was her career. Still, she wasn’t sure her grandfather would live long enough to see her find “the one” and get married. Unwilling to let that stop her from realizing his wish, she decided to give him a surprise that would make Mr. Fu happier than he had been in a long time. But she had to keep it all a secret.
Earlier that month, Xuewei took her grandfather to the hospital for a checkup. Once they were there, she casually told him, “we’re actually going to take some pictures today.” Mr. Fu nodded and said ok. As they arrived at the photography studio, IV drip in tow, Xuewei’s grandfather started to realize this wasn’t just a normal photo shoot.
Xuewei handed her grandfather a dapper suit to wear, while she put on a beautiful white bridal gown. The photo shoot, it turned out, was wedding-themed. “My grandfather would be the one to give me away at my wedding,” Xuewei explained. “Because I don’t know if he could live long enough to see that, I wanted to make sure he could do that now.” It was truly a magical day, and the pictures were there to prove it.
Aside from the studio photos, Xuewei and Mr. Fu took pictures in a small church, for which they each wore a different outfit. The whole affair cost her 3000 yuan ($476), but to her, it was worth every penny. Seeing her grandfather’s smile when he looked at her meant everything to Xuewei. It was a smile worth immortalizing, so she did.
Xuewei also decided to get a tattoo of Mr. Fu’s image on her arm. “I had my grandfather’s portrait tattooed on my arm in January because I want my new friends and my children to be able to know what he looks like in the future,” she said. Images from the photo shoot went viral in China, where the topic of young women and marriage is a hot-button issue.
While Xuewei went above and beyond to give her grandfather a small glimpse of his dream, other young women in China don’t take so kindly to the pressure to get married. As the country’s middle class grows and the population becomes more educated, young women have started to prioritize career over marriage and family. But traditional values persist in the older generations, leading to a clash.
Traditional Chinese culture has led to the mentality that women should be married by the time they are 27 years old. Any woman who reaches 30 and remains single is considered a ‘sheng nu,’ or ‘leftover woman.’ These women’s families often pressure them to find a husband in order to avoid the social stigma. But, increasingly, young women are fighting back against the concept and the pressure.
Many of the Chinese women who remain unmarried beyond their late twenties are highly educated and financially independent. Their high earning potential means they have better career opportunities and are an important consumer group. They are slowly gaining power within a very patriarchal society, and are already fighting to reclaim the term ‘sheng nu’ as a positive connotation rather than negative. They’re not leftover. They’re simply too successful to settle for just any man.