A Chinese county government’s proposed campaign to encourage local women to stay and marry local bachelors to solve their “marriage crisis” has been widely ridiculed after details of the plan appeared online. The proposal by Xiangyin county government in central China’s Hunan province was referred to as “operation bed warming” in an article published on a website run by the local communist party. The proposal said the challenges facing rural men seeking marriage are: “a problem that’s turning from a personal issue into a societal issue”. The four-point plan included increasing propaganda discouraging local women from moving away from rural areas, simplifying legal paperwork for people to stay , increasing matchmaking services and improving local employment opportunities and pay. “Rural women must be educated to love their hometowns, build their hometowns, be encouraged to stay and change their hometowns, to bring down the unbalanced ratio between men and women here,” the proposal said. There was immediate and widespread criticism of the proposal, with many calling it an insulting suggestion that infringed on women’s freedom. “We did not get educated so that we could go back to our hometowns and serve our in-laws,” one woman wrote on Weibo. “I suspect the rural women who still live in the villages would all leave after they hear this proposal,” another person said. Some who expressed support for the proposal also received online criticism. Last week, Red Net, a website run by the Hunan Provincial Party Committee, published an article arguing the proposal was necessary. “It’s no small issue for rural men to have wives, it’s absolutely necessary for rural areas to have ‘operation bed warming’ and for older rural men to feel more happy,” it said. “In rural areas, it’s becoming common that men cannot get wives … it’s making the parents and themselves miserable.” The county government has since clarified to Red Star News that they did not mean they will force women to stay and that it was only intended as an encouragement to stay. In 2020, only 8.13 million couples tied the knot in China, a 12 per cent drop from the previous year, and the seventh consecutive year of declining marriage rates, data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs showed. It is partially caused by China’s unbalanced gender ratio due to years of gender discrimination and selective birth as a result of China’s notorious one-child policy. Rural areas are particularly affected as many women move to large cities in search of better employment opportunities China’s sex ratio at birth is one of the most unbalanced in the world, with 114 males to every 100 females born, there are currently 30 million more men than women, based on data from Statista, an international data provider. The average sex ratio at birth globally is about 105 boys for every 100 girls, according to the World Health Organization. It’s not the first time such a proposal has been made. Earlier this year, a proposal by a senior think tank official for unmarried urban women to migrate to rural areas, where there are millions of unmarried men looking for brides, caused a public furore.