I clearly remember when my cousin graduated from university, she had dinner with the whole extended family. During the dinner she was being questioned by everyone why she was not getting married. All the uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents tried to connivence her to start preparing the ceremony before they themselves get too old to help her for her ceremony. My cousin broken down in tears many times during this night, and whenever she raised her own opinions on her own marriage, she was being blamed not being responsible.
She got married a half year later.
The Chinese society is heavily influenced by Confucius philosophy, which is one of the fundamental philosophies that makes the cornerstone to the Chinese society. One concept – filial piety, Chinese 孝 (Xiao) is a virtue of respect for one’s parents, and ancestors.
In more general terms, it means to be good to one’s parents; to take care of one’s parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one’s parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one’s job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not be rebellious, show love, respect and support; display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one’s parents, including dissuading them from moral unrighteousness; display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out after their death.
In Chinese society supporting one’s parents often means it is very normal for the parents to live with the children into old age. In comparison in Western society it is normal for elderly parents to live alone or to live in the retirement villages. I’ve discussed this with my Chinese friends and the first reaction is that we wouldn’t want our elderly parents to live on their own. Chinese parents sacrifice themselves so much for their children, sometimes even to an extent that it starts to feel ridiculous. Oddly, the more ridiculous it gets, the more people praise it.
This 1988 Taiwannese film “Mum, love me again” shows a story of a selfless mum giving up her own son to the father of her son and his mum. She has to leave her then boyfriend in the first place because of the boyfriend’s mum, the mum thinks she is not a good fit to her son, and literately tried everything to stop them to be together. And she is successful to break them up. As I’m sure she was only considering the best interest for her son, the consequence is that her son is very unhappy all his life.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s name the selfless mum who breaks up with her boyfriend as mum 1, and boyfriend’s mum as mum 2.
(The film is more than one hour long with English subtitles)
The mum 1 in this movie was later approached by mum 2, surprisingly, the boyfriend and his new wife, for some reason, can’t successfully reproduce a child. After several dramatic events and lots of tear, the mum 1 gives up the son to the father’s family because she thinks that is better future for her son. She went crazy after giving up her son, and unfortunately her son is old enough to remember, and became unhappy himself.
This movie was super popular in China and Taiwan in 1980s and there are several remakes of the movie later on.
This movie touched a lot of people, and equally scarred a lot of people as well. Oh the love of a mother conquers everything! That’s the greatest love of the universe! I totally agree, but, her son is not happy…? That was my earliest encounter with the puzzlement of why people create all this drama for themselves, I remember leaving the cinema with all the other sobering/crying watchers, not only I did not cry, I was asking my friends whether being unhappy is the theme for the so-called selfless parental love. I’m pretty sure mum 2 was sincerely considering her son’s benefits as well when she decided no matter at what cost, she will break up the love birds resulting in misery for everyone. The mum 1, in return, with same belief and wants only the best for her son. The sons in this movie are the true losers, having no say of their own lives whatsoever.
So what make these mothers to believe what they are doing is the best for their children? What is the BEST thing for anyone really?
But wait, isn’t that what the good Mr. Confucius has already clearly defined that for us? Yes, that’s right, we have to take good care of our parents, bring good name to the family, do our duties and not to be rebellious. These ideas are good, they helps us to stabilise the society and unite the families. However, independent and individualistic ideas are clearly not encouraged or supported.
For many years, Chinese families relied on the children to take care of the parents, as the parents themselves dutifully done the same for their own parents. However, decades of only child policy has created thousands and millions of only child and their responsibilities of taking care of the parents is becoming a difficult task to manage. There are many reasons that restrict the children to look after their parents, such as physical distance, time and financial difficulties, etc.
In 2013, Chinese government announced a new piece of legislation that requires people to visit and take care of the parents. If they don’t, they can get sued, often by their own parents. There is no clear numbers of how many parents actually sued their children, but it is the Chinese government’s effort to raise awareness of the issue that the elderly parents are lonely and needs emotional support from their offsprings.
Consequently, in 2013, Chinese Central Television (CCTV) did a street interview on the random walkers about this new law. Some support it, some don’t. However, an angry elder man said this to the journalist who was doing the interview:
He reportedly said: “The laws nowadays are non-sense, my child does not come home and visit me, how is that offending the law. But if they are over 30 years old and still not married, that is an offense of the law, and should be officially punished.”
This video caused an internet sensation as it shows another family issue: more and more grown up adults are marrying later, against their parents’ wishes. The debates among the netizens are divided into two sides, one side arguing the lack of money, time, a car and even an apartment prevents them to find a right person to marry, as the Chinese nowadays require these “basic things” to have a good foundation for a new marriage life. Some argue that why not married in certain age should be punished, what is the right age and what about personal goals and lifestyle differences? This statement, therefore, is very inhumane.
On the other side, people argue that “if you don’t take the responsibility to have your own family, how can you take greater responsibilities at work, for the society, and for your country?”, “there is a reason our ancestor told us to start your own family before the age of 30, you can’t against the nature”, and some even expressed regrets for not getting married earlier, because ultimately, “it is our duty to pass along our bloodline and take the responsibility”. According to revolutionary theory, in the end we are all animals, and our duty is to reproduce, isn’t it?
Sounds more like we are just monkeys rather than humans.
Of course, not all parents are as strongly opinionated as the old man in the interview. However, they sure worried for their unmarried kids and use other ways to solve the problem.
If you haven’t been to the Chinese match making market, you are missing out. It shows you how desperate the parents are for their children to get married: they carry their children’s picture with name, occupation, education, height and material status around their neck and chat with the other parents who are also carrying a board with them.
If this doesn’t get weird enough for you, they will even go on to have individual blind date for their children, just to see whether the actual person is suitable or not.
Strange that may sounds, these are all the signs that the idea of an unmarried adult child is simply unbearable for the parents. But why?
My own opinion is that the idea of happiness is very different for Chinese compare to Western people. When Western parents tell their children:”Just be happy.” They mean they wish their children healthy, independent, doing what they love and being happy. But for Chinese parents, this is more complicated, or maybe more materialistic when comes to happiness. Happiness is defined by how other people see you, how much money you make, whether you own an apartment, whether your job is stable or not and whether if you married a successful person. For Chinese, happiness is easily measured, anyone who has it all and still not happy must be crazy.
Right from the start, we are trying to achieve the goals other people set for us. In the school we have been told we need to achieve the best mark to go to the next best school, in the university, we have been told we need to work the hardest to find a job, at the work, we need to achieved the best to get a raise, so that we can afford a car, a house, a title and marry our successful significant other half. But you will ask, what if this is not happiness to me? Yes this is happiness, you will be assured by everyone around you, by your parents.
There must be someone seeing life differently, and actually have the option to live a different life.
My Life Goals Review by an anonymous online writer. (The article is written in Chinese).
The linked article is from a Tsinghua university student who later went to Hong Kong for his post-graduate studies. When he changed his living environment, he has been seriously questioning his life goals, and whether they are making him happy. All his life he thought study hard, go to the top university, find a good job would make him happy, but he felt confused once he arrived in Hong Kong. He went to talk to a tutor in school, the tutor showed him a sentence in the Bible, not to convince him to convert to Christianity, but only the sentence. The sentence says:
Everything is meaningless.
“Why worry so much, everything that is happening, has already happened, and it will happen again. Nothing is new. Imagine you are looking at yourself from the space, we are just invisible small beings that full of materialistic desires… But life is so simple, it’s just a process, happens in the silence… To live a life is to complete yourself, because you are who you are, you are unique and that is irreplaceable.”
For our ancestors and parents, your love for us will never stop. But time keep moving forward, we are changing with time.
For all of us who had pressures from our parents to go to the best school, to find a good job, to get married, to be like everyone else. When you become a parent yourself, will you do the same thing to your child? Or will the change start with you.
I would love to know your opinions on this topic, please leave us a comment below.