Living alone should be a personal choice, but many people in China find it strange that women, especially younger women, would make such a decision, particularly as it may result in a barrage of criticism.
Yang Lin (not her real name) was the subject of online gossip after she accidentally locked herself in the bathroom of her Beijing apartment.
The incident occurred in February on Chinese New Year's Eve. Yang expected the evening to be quiet and uneventful because she had stayed in Beijing for the holiday, heeding official appeals not to travel to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The mishap came when she finished showering. She had closed the door securely, but when she turned the shabby doorknob at about 1 am, the door remained stuck despite her frantic efforts to open it.
To make matters worse, she hadn't taken her smartphone into the bathroom, and there was no one in the apartment－apart from her "roommate", a cat named Sphinx－to help her escape the muggy, cramped bathroom.
She tried opening the door by many means, including inserting an eyebrow trimmer into the key barrel and even removing the showerhead and using it to bang on the door in the hope of making a breach. Nothing worked.
Then, she pinned her hopes on shouting to see if the Siri function on her iPhone would respond and allow her to call for assistance.
The night was long and tough, but the 30-hour ordeal ended when Lin Jian, a 30-something man who lived in the apartment below, heard Yang's calls for help and phoned a locksmith.
Yang's life should have returned to normal, but she posted her story on WeChat Moments.
When a friend shared a screenshot of the post, the story went viral, triggering a wave of criticism about Yang's decision to live alone.
She was distressed by comments that blamed her for living alone and not having a boyfriend, but even worse, she was followed and threatened by strangers.
Eventually, she had no option but to find another apartment.
A new option
Despite the criticism, living alone is becoming a regular choice for many young people, especially those who are single.
Figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs show that 240 million people were single in 2018, and about 77 million of them were living alone. That figure is projected to rise to 92 million this year.
Li Ming, a 24-year-old Beijing native, enjoys living on her own, even though it costs more than sharing.
"I'm having a very good time. I get up early, at about 6:30 am, and nobody disturbs my life. I have a nice breakfast, and then I concentrate on my work and finish all my early tasks during the morning," she said.
Zhang Siyu (an assumed name) is looking forward to living alone because she currently shares an apartment with three other women and a man.
While it's quite normal for younger or junior employees to do this in Beijing, the monthly rent for a single room is still reasonably high at about 4,000 yuan ($617).
"I think the criticism of the girl (Yang) was crazy. I would enjoy living alone, and I would do so if I had the money. I saw some malicious comments about Yang's experience, which I thought were irrational. It's a personal preference to lock doors or not. For me, it's quite normal to lock the door when using the restroom even when I am at my parents' house in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region," said Zhang, 25, who works in the education industry.
"Also, the focus should not be on having a boyfriend or not. It's funny, anyway. The criticism sounds like 'Living alone is dangerous, but you will be safe if you have a boyfriend.' People who hold that opinion may have a misunderstanding about intimate relationships that aren't just limited to boyfriends, but to anyone you trust, such as a friend or the house owner, who may be able to offer emergency help."
Safety, security and feeling lonely are the main concerns of some of those who live alone.
Yang Shumiao (not her real name) has worked in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, for two years. She shares an apartment with strangers.
"I have my own room, and I don't really know the people I live with. So I'm effectively living alone, even though I'm actually sharing an apartment," she said.
The 24-year-old said her residential area is quite secure, but she still has fears about her safety.
"Earlier this year, I accidentally fell to the floor. It really hurt, and I couldn't get up by myself. The sharp pain lasted more than 10 minutes, but I eventually climbed into bed. I was worried I had a bone fracture and felt really sad," she said.
"I feel like I am an empty nester in such a big city, even though I'm only in my 20s. That makes me feel aggrieved from time to time."
She expressed sympathy for Yang Lin, the young woman who was subjected to cyberbullying.
"Everyone has the right to choose the way they live. But a girl may have to do much more to protect herself when she lives alone," she said.
"I like the humorous notion of changing a female tenant's name to a masculine one. I once joked that I planned to change my name to Yang Bajun (meaning'a bossy man'). It's a joke, but kind of poignant," she said ruefully.
Xu Xiaowen contributed to this story.