Over the past few days we’ve been looking at changes in the practices of Chinese families (here and here), today we are going to be looking a little closer at how Chinese define the importance of family and why that looks so different from our own definition.
The Chinese view is that “Family” is absolutely the most important part of their lives, and the responsibilities to their family trump their individual interests. These sacrifices to improve their family’s standing are seen as acts of filiality, and are the Chinese standard of a “good” child.
This idea of family leads to some interesting living arrangements.
In the countryside parents often will leave their children behind to work factory jobs in the cities. Nearly 1/3 of China’s population now floats between the two worlds. The parents come home only once a year at Spring Festival, bringing hard earned cash and literal piles of presents.
Also I am friends with a Chinese doctor and his wife here in the city. They both have good jobs by Chinese standards, but they have still sent their son to be raised by his parents. I couldn’t imagine having a child and not raising it myself. They know though that if they work long hours now they will be able to provide a much more comfortable life for the child, and that his grandparents will dote on him far more than a babysitter would.
These arrangements are made with the best interests of the child in mind, but they don’t always work out as planned. I mentioned in an earlier post, that one student was regularly beaten by her relatives while her parents worked. It also leads the students to seriously question their parents’ love at time. It breaks my heart when students tell me that in their entire life they have never been hugged by their parents, or been told that they are loved. In English corners I’ve heard them convince themselves that even though it has never been said, they are loved.
To westerners, with our outside view, it seems like money is the most important thing in China. After all, to us spending time with our family is how we show our love for our parents or children. Chinese people want to be able to spend more time with their families, but as their relatives and the jobs that provide the money for a better life are often in separate places, they choose to sacrifice their own interests for the ones they love.