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Still Among the Most Conservative — the continuance of Confucian Influences on Chinese Family

Family is a very serious issue in China. So serious, that many people put family values above love, friendship, personal values, and, on extreme occasions, even above life.

Family value is the fundamental value of Chinese and probably all other Asian cultures under the influence of Confucianism. Despite the strong trend of Westernization in modern day Asia, it is still deeply rooted in every Asian’s mindset. The traces of family value can be seen in various aspects of Chinese life.

In a traditional household, fathers make important decisions and are the main bread earners. They are in the most important position in a family and usually have control over other family members. Despite the high female workforce participation rate, fathers are still expected to be the one supporting the family financially. Mothers are more expected to devote their life to taking care of the family. Children are expected to be obedient to their parents and should work hard to pay back their parents for their upbringing. The elderly are usually respected and taken good care of within the family in acknowledgement of their earlier contributions to the family. It is considered a great embarrassment to the family if the family has disobedient children or an elder that is not taken good care of.

The traditional Chinese family value reflects gender inequality to a great extent. It is a common belief that a husband should be superior to his wife intellectually. It is generally considered a humiliation if the wife’s earnings or degree of education exceeds that of the husband’s. Despite many coastal areas with higher GDPs, such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, which have become more acceptable of “strong women”– women that take the traditional roles of men in workplaces, many Chinese men still prefer female partner with lower incomes and lower educations. It’s widely believed in Chinese society that a female with a PhD is a “the third gender” and parents discourage their daughter from seeking such a high degree of education. Some conservative families even prevent daughters from seeking Master’s degrees and urge them to find a potential husband in universities. Some parents even force their daughter to enroll in top ranking universities focused on technology and science, such as Qinghua University or Jiaotong University (Chinese version of MIT), just so they will have higher chance of meeting successful young men who would be the ideal Confucian husband– men with a stable high-paying job, usually involving science and technology, who are loyal to their wife, and who take good care of the family. In traditional values, a women’s duty is to take care of her family and she would never be considered successful, even if she were the CEO, unless she had a harmonious family.

This mindset of traditional roles of different genders has greatly influenced family education in China. Girls are encouraged as much as boys to perform well academically before entering university, but emphasis are moved to learning to cook, sew, and clean after ensured a university education (drop out rate in Chinese universities are extremely low) and further seeking of education are discouraged in many conservative families. It is widely believed that a girl should choose a vocation of fewer burdens since it gives more time for girls to devote to their families. Chinese girls were taught to be gentle and quiet, graceful, and obedient, which I failed my family by growing up to be a women of strong will and unique character, not preferred by many Chinese men. My parents have always been upset about me taking initiative in many aspects of my life, including making too many friend of the opposite gender. They believe girls should be reserved, less involved, and wait for the prince riding a white horse to come after them. Despite my success in making many friends and being loved at my workplace for my outgoing character, they’ve always criticized me for lacking traditional female beauty, causing me unable to find a successful potential husband. To this, I’ve always paid minimum attention, since I’m happy and proud of who I am. Also, I was surprised and relieved to see that no female seems to be pressured by their family to seek a husband at Willamette, whereas in my university, single girls were constantly worrying that they might be “left behind”.

In contrast, the family education for boys in the Chinese family is teaching the boys to be tough, brave, and responsible for family and society. In traditional Chinese culture, men should have great ambition, thus Chinese boys are taught to be independent and strong. Some families, especially in less developed regions, also teach boys to have control over their wives, somewhat similar to male chauvinism. In general, boys are given more freedom of choice of career and marriage, since wives take care of the family in most occasions and men do not have to worry about “being too old to get a husband.” However, in return, the bride’s family usually expects the groom to own a flat and have a stable income, which also gives boys from poorer families a harder time finding a wife since the gender ratio of China is nearly 120 men to 100 women. This has caused serious social problems, such as human trafficking, where thousands of girls disappear every year; most of the cases have not raised public attention. The “import of wives” from bordering developing country such as Vietnam and North Korea has also become a growing concern.

What I wrote above might have cast a shadow upon the image of families in China (especially due to the fact that I personally advocate feminism), however, there’s many aspects of Chinese family that contribute to the harmony of the society.

A Chinese family is very stable, where the family members take good care of each other. In China, a marriage is a commitment that is not easily broken. Chinese tend to prefer a stable marriage and think of what benefits their children best, where problems within the family are discussed carefully and divorce is often used as the last method of solving problems. Chinese men have high sense of responsibility and usually take relationships seriously. In general, China has lower divorce rate than many other country. In comparison, the number of my Chinese friends growing up in families that have gone through divorce is far less than my friends from non-Asian countries.

Like all other Asian countries, Chinese parents put more emphasis on the education of their children, looking after their studies and personal development. This has made Chinese students more competitive in academics and have higher levels of self-discipline on average. The rate of substance abuse and juvenile delinquency is relatively low in China. The Asian American stereotype of students with outstanding grades in school also reflects the general emphasis of education in Asian families.

In Chinese families, the elders are also taken care of with great concern. The elderly are associated with life experience and wisdom and are well respected. Spirituality has a long history in China, where it is widely believed that the spirit of the ancestor will have great effect on the family, either bringing prosperity or disaster. It is regarded as an insult to the family line to not take care of the elderly. Putting your parents in nursery homes when you have the ability to take care of them is regarded as an improper act. It is also in the Chinese legislation that children have the obligation to take care of their retired parents, and parents have rights to sue their children for financial aid if the children refuse to take care of them. This helps lighten the burden of the Chinese government in caring for senior citizens. It is common for parents to live with grown-up children. In some homes, up to 4 generations of family members can live together in harmony. My parents took in my grandmother to live with us after the death of my grandfather. China is among the most comfortable place for elderly to live, since the society takes good care of the senior citizens. Senior citizens over the age of 70 enjoy free public transportation and free admission to tourist attractions.

In all, family in China is very ordered and follows the teaching of Confucianism. There are both advantages and disadvantages in having strict order. Things have changed a lot after the Opening Policy as foreign culture entered China, but many things are still the way it was. I hope one day there will be more equality in the role of both genders in family.

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