This article explores how women of different class backgrounds contest the imperative to enter heteronormative marriage in urban China. While the state and the market propose marriage as the only path to the good life, these women describe it as a risky enterprise and an unequal partnership. The social pressure they face highlights the continuing exclusionary role of marriage in present-day Chinese society, as their stand challenges the state-sponsored narrative of “leftover woman.” These women see their unmarried status not as a sacrifice or loss, but rather as a strategy for preserving their autonomy, well-being, and relationships with their own kin and friends. Accordingly, they come across as desiring subjects, though not as uncivil individualists or affectively precarious. The women's affective choices privilege bonds that exceed the patrilineal family and the conjugal couple. Although this preference may jeopardize their social respectability and limit their prospects for upward mobility, it allows them to explore different avenues to the good life.

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